Cosmopolitan Charm, in Martinu's 'Mirandolina'

The opera's title character is the enterprising proprietor of a small inn, on a small plaza in Florence. As ACT ONE begins, Mirandolina is squarely in the sights of two of her guests -- a pair of minor nobleman who have both fallen in love with her. One is the Marquese di Forlimpopoli. He's a bit down on his luck financially, but hopes his aristocratic title will attract her. The other is Count d'Albafiorito, who plans to win Mirandolina over with his wealth, by showering her with gifts.

There's also a third nobleman among the guests, the Cavaliere di Ripafratta. But he is most definitely not in love with Mirandolina. In fact, he proudly admits to a profound hatred of all women -- finding them totally untrustworthy, and not worth bothering with.

So when he hears the Marquese and the Count arguing over Mirandolina, he mocks them both. He says they're simply wasting time, energy, and -- at least in the case of the Count -- money, as well.

The Cavaliere even makes his sentiments known to Mirandolina herself, treating her rudely while demanding a better set of bed linens for his room. Mirandolina takes his surly attitude as a challenge to be overcome. She decides to pay a little "extra attention" to the Cavaliere -- to the distress of her servant Fabrizio, who is genuinely in love with her.

Mirandolina decides that she'll deliver new linens to the Cavaliere in person. In his room, she shrewdly tells him that she understands his feelings for women. Other men, she says, are easily duped into giving her gifts, and following her around like puppies. So she admires the Cavaliere. Obviously, she says, he's made of stronger stuff. When she offers her hand, and he takes it, Mirandolina pretends go weak, and nearly swoons.

She then leaves the Cavaliere alone, but her routine has done the trick. As the act ends he's having a furious argument -- with himself -- about his strange feelings for this unexpectedly fascinating, not to mention beautiful young woman.

In ACT TWO, two more guests arrive, the young women Ortensia and Deianira. They're both actresses, and a bit down on their luck, but they're dressed to the nines for their stay at the inn.

Fabrizio mistakes them for noblewomen, and the two take advantage, claiming to be a Baroness and a Countess, respectively. Fabrizio falls for this act -- but Mirandolina sees through it immediately, and tells them so. Still, she decides to play along. Using the phony titles, she introduces the women to the Marquese and the Count, if only to get the two men out of her hair. The the actresses are amazed at how easy it is for Mirandolina to get attention, not to mention lavish gifts, from the gullible noblemen, and determine to get in on that action themselves.

For her part, Mirandolina is still determined to cut the haughty Cavaliere Ripafratta down to size. She decides to serve him a special lunch, personally, in his room. She flatters him, admiring his strength in resisting the temptations of love. She also plies him with an excellent bottle of Burgundy, which he invites her to share. Pretending to be a bit tipsy, Mirandolina does a sort of "damsel in distress" routine.

With that, on top of all the flattery, the Cavaliere finds himself weakening. Still, he does have a reputation to maintain -- of the man who's immune to feminine charms. So he instructs his valet to tell no one that he's entertaining Mirandolina in his room. But he's not fooling Mirandolina -- and he's certainly not fooling himself.

Eventually the two are surprised by the Count, the Marchese and the two actresses -- just as Mirandolina pretends to swoon, and the Cavaliere is fawning over her. He tries to play it straight, huffing that nothing was "going on," and he still has no use for any woman. But as he storms out of the room, nobody is buying it, and they all have a laugh at his expense.

All along, the servant Fabrizio has been falling more and more in love with Mirandolina, though he seems to think winning her over is all but a lost cause. But in ACT THREE we might begin to wonder about that. As the act begins, Mirandolina is ironing some laundry. There's a bit of banter between the two and she drops a few hints about her true feelings for Fabrizio.

The Cavaliere then sends his valet to Mirandolina. He's purportedly concerned over her reaction to the wine they shared, and wants her to have a gift. It's a tonic for her health, presented in a solid gold vial that's extremely valuable. And the valet says the vial is hers to keep. She says the Cavaliere can keep his expensive gift -- she wants no part of it.

Eventually, Ripafratta himself appears, demanding to know why Mirandolina has rejected his generosity. But she repeatedly calls for Fabrizio, asking him to reheat her iron, and making eyes at him in the process. This quickly arouses the Cavaliere's jealousy, and he eventually admits that he loves her. But surely that can't be, she says. Not you, the hater of women! Angry and frustrated, the Cavaliere leaves the room.

Eventually, the entire inn learns that Ripafratta, the notorious misogynist, has admitted his love for Mirandolina. But Mirandolina herself is worried. The Cavaliere is lovesick and jealous, and he might even be dangerous. She's alone in a room that, rather conveniently, has three doors. Pondering what to do, she calls in Fabrizio for a little sympathy. He appears through one door, while the Cavaliere is angrily pounding at another one, demanding entrance.

Then, through the third door, the Count and the Marquese enter, wondering what's up. When Mirandolina leaves the room to hide, the Count allows Ripfratta to enter and tempers flare. As the Count and Marquese try to protect Mirandolina, swords are drawn, and it seems the Count and the Cavaliere are prepared to fight a duel.

But Mirandolina returns, and puts a stop to it. By now, the entire company has gathered. Everyone makes fun of the Cavaliere -- the man with no use for women, who is now head-over-heels in love. And Mirandolina strikes the final blow, admitting her love for Fabrizio, and suggesting the two be married as quickly as possible.

At that, the disgraced Cavaliere di Ripafratta makes an ignominious exit -- which is just fine with the others. As the opera ends, everyone raises a glass to the happy couple. But they also offer some advice: If you find yourself in love, and you're not sure what to do about it, it pays to remember the story of Mirandolina.