Contracts, wills, marriages and rings

F. Annunziata


Opera, for its inherent multimedia nature (text, music, scenography, ballet, representation), lends itself to analysis of interdisciplinary nature, including those that touch upon legal topics. The stories told in the great masterpieces of European opera are, frequently, based on facts relevant for criminal law: murders, abductions, extortions, kidnappings, massacres, and other types of crimes fill the stories of opera since its origin.

In the events narrated in the texts of musical theatre, in the masterpieces by Verdi, Donizetti, Bellini, Wagner, and many others there are, however, also addressed issues that touch upon the less obvious areas of private law: librettos often talk about contracts, donations, wills, weddings, family relationships, debts and money issues in general. In Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Nemorino – in love with the beautiful but indifferent Adina – is the victim of a real contract scam perpetrated by Dulcamara. In La sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini, Elvino snatches the engagement ring given to Amina thinking she was unfaithful: he revokes a donation made in view of marriage, and maybe breaks a rule of law. In Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold, one witnesses a sensational case of breach of contract, to be read in the light of the emergence, in the nineteenth century, of a new sensibility for market economy and the increasingly central value of contracts in social relations. In Le nozze di Figaro by Mozart, there is a strange marriage vow, executed in order to guarantee the repayment of a debt.

In ten opera masterpieces, selected by the author, these issues are examined in the light of the law applicable at the place of the first performance of the opera, compared with that of the sources of the libretto, and today’s laws. For Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold and Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini, the analysis highlights the cultural models of reference, reflected in the narrative. In addition to the delicate legal aspects of the plot, the author entertains the reader with the origins of librettos, cultural and musical references for each selected work, in a refined kaleidoscope of citations.

the Author

the Authors

Prof. Filippo Annunziata

Prof. Filippo Annunziata

Prof. Filippo Annunziata