Scene: The Piazetta, Venice (Date, 1750)
Of all the gondoliers in Venice, the two Palmieri brothers, Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri, are so handsome and have such winning ways that they have completely turned the heads of the pretty contadine (country girls). No gondolier can get married until Marco and Giuseppe have been taken out of the running! But Marco and Giuseppe are nonplussed as to how to choose their brides, and decide to solve the problem by allowing themselves to be blindfolded, whilst the contadine dance around them. In the ensuing game Marco catches Gianetta, and Giuseppe, Tessa. The remaining contadine accept their fate and pair off with the previously ignored gondolieri. Everyone runs off merrily to get married.
As they disappear, a gondola stops before the steps of the Piazetta. From it emerge the Duke and Duchess of PlazaToro, their daughter Casilda and their "suite," consisting of a single servant, "His Grace's private drum," Luiz. They are dressed as befits their noble station, but their clothes are much the worse for wear (in fact, the Duke is penniless). The Duke demands an audience with Don Alhambra, the Grand Inquisitor, and sends Luiz into the Ducal Palace to seek him.
While Luiz is on the errand, the Duke reveals to Casilda why they have come to Venice from Spain. When Casilda was a six months old babe, she was married by proxy to the infant son of the wealthy King of Barataria. But when the King of Barataria changed his religion, and became "a Wesleyan Methodist of a most bigoted and persecuting type," the Grand Inquisitor, determined that such an innovation should not be perpetuated in Barataria, stole the youthful heir to the throne and conveyed him to Venice. A fortnight ago the Baratarian King and his Court were all killed in an insurrection, and therefore the Duke and Duchess have brought Casilda to Venice to be reunited with her husband, and to be proclaimed Queen of Barataria.
The Duke and Duchess, however, are not aware that Casilda, unfortunately, is in love with someone else - none other than father's "private drum," Luiz. Left alone, the two young people express their sad thoughts of what the future must now bring.
However, when Don Alhambra arrives, he explains that when he stole the youthful Prince of Barataria, brought him to Venice and placed him in the family of a highly respectable Gondolier, who had a son of the same age, something unexpected happened. The Gondolier, through a fondness for drinking, muddled up the two children, and when the Inquisitor went to fetch the Royal Child, the old gondolier had died and there was no way to tell which was which. So Don Alhambra let things be, and both sons were raised as gondoliers, ignorant of the actual identity of one of them (whichever he is!). Now that that one is King of Barataria, Don Alhambra will send for the Prince's nursemaid, who is the only person who can tell. Since Luiz is the son of this nursemaid, he is sent to bring her to Barataria, and the Duke, Duchess and Casilda depart.
Giuseppe and Marco now return with their new-wed wives Tessa and Gianetta (respectively). Don Alhambra informs them that either Giuseppe or Marco is the King of Barataria, and that until the mystery is unravelled, they must take up the reins of government as one individual. They may take all their friends with them and give them positions at the court — all, that is, except the ladies, who must stay behind (Don Alhambra does NOT tell the gondoliers that whichever of them IS the king is actually already married). All the gondoliers clamber aboard a boat for Barataria, whilst the contadine wave a tearful farewell.
Scene: A Pavilion in the Court of Barataria (Three Months Later)
Joint Kings Marco and Giuseppe have reorganized the state on idealistic republican principles — everyone is equal to everyone else. The result is somewhat chaotic; if the new kings want anything done, they have to do it themselves.
Just as they express their longing for their wives, all the contadine run in, having broken the rules out of desire to see them. Tessa and Gianetta are anxious to know if their husbands have anyone to mend the royal socks, and which of them is to be queen. In honor of their arrival, Giuseppe and Marco announce a grand banquet and dance.
In the middle of a brilliant cachucha, Don Alhambra enters. He is astonished at the scene he sees before him, and tries to explain why their theories of government are wrong. He also announces the arrival of the beautiful Casilda, and reveals that one of them, either Marco or Giuseppe (whichever is the real King of Barataria), is an unintentional bigamist.
Tessa and Gianetta are heartbroken. Neither of them will be a queen, and one of them isn't even married! But which one?
The Duke, Duchess and Casilda now arrive, dressed magnificently. The Duke has put his social prestige to good use and has become a very profitable company, trading his and the Duchess's influence for cash. Casilda confesses to her parents that she cannot love her long-lost husband, and can only hope that, when the King sees what the Duke is up to, he will refuse to recognize the alliance.
Marco and Giuseppe enter, and the Duke chides them on their conduct unbecoming a true king. He instructs them on a superior demeanor, which they try to adopt. The Duke and Duchess tactfully leave Marco and Giuseppe alone with Casilda; Gianetta and Tessa join then, and all five attempt to figure out the highly complicated problem of exactly who is married to whom.
Finally, the entire court enters with Don Alhambra, who brings forward Inez, the foster-mother of the Prince. Inez confesses that when Don Alhambra came to steal the child, she substituted her own little boy. Therefore the child she slyly called her "son" — Luiz — is none other than the true King of Barataria. Casilda and Luiz are reunited, and Luiz crowns Casilda Queen.
The solution is satisfactory to all, especially to Marco and Giuseppe, who are free to return, happy with their wives, to the life of a gondolier.
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The Young Victorian Theatre Company is funded by an operating grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive. Funding for the Maryland State Arts Council is also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.