A pretty village.
In the Tyrol, in the first half of the 17th century, Laura (a peasant girl) and other villagers gather near the home of the old soldier Miller to celebrate the birthday of his daughter Luisa (introduction «Ti desta, o Luisa»). It is a spring morning and the girl would like to enjoy herself with her friends, but she is anxiously waiting for her fiancé Carlo to appear. Miller is worried, because Carlo has only just arrived at the court of the new lord, Count Walter, and is completely unknown to the villagers. The young man now appears and declares his love to Luisa. The old Miller is approached by one of Walter’s courtiers namedWurm, who loves Luisa and had already asked for her hand a year ago but was refused. Miller declares his intention not to oppose his daughter’s feelings (scena and aria «Sacra la scelta è d’un consorte »). Wurm then reveals that under Carlo’s guise is concealed Rodolfo, son of Count Walter. Miller begins to suspect that Rodolfo is not sincere and that he wishes in reality to dishonour Luisa.
A room in Walter’s castle.
Wurm discloses to the Count what had hitherto been a close secret, that his son is in love with Luisa. Walter is hurt by Rodolfo’s behaviour, having done all in his power to make him happy (scena and aria «Il mio sangue, la vita darei»). The Count summons his son and announces that he has arranged for him to marry the duchess Federica d’Ostheim, his niece, and orders him to obey his wishes. Federica arrives, accompanied by a festive chorus who pay homage to her (recitative and chorus «Quale un sorriso d’amica sorte»). The Count then goes out hunting, leaving Rodolfo alone with Federica, to whom he is bound by old friendship. Rodolfo confesses to her that he loves Luisa, but gets no sympathy from her, since Federica is herself in love with him. Indeed she gives vent to her resentment (recitative and duet «Dall’aule raggianti di vano splendore»).
In Miller’s house.
In the distance can be heard the cries and sounds of the hunt (finale «Sciogliete i levrieri... »). Luisa, distressed that Rodolfo has not yet joined her, sees Miller enter in a state of great agitation. The old soldier tells his daughter of Rodolfo’s deceit and reveals the man’s true identity, adding that he has heard that he is soon to be married. Rodolfo himself now appears, and swears to the sincerity of his love. He kneels before Miller and declares Luisa his bride. But the Count suddenly bursts in, insults Luisa and accuses her of betrayal. Rodolfo draws his sword, but then sheathes it since he cannot bring himself to use weapons against his own father. Walter summons the archers and commands them to arrest Miller and his daughter. Rodolfo attempts to intervene but in vain: the order is confirmed. He then goes up to his father and threatens him: if he insists on his proposition, then he will publicly reveal how he became Count Walter. Alarmed and shaken, Walter orders Luisa’s release.
In Miller’s house.
Laura and the peasants inform Luisa, who is alone, that her father has been arrested and dragged off in chains by ruffians (chorus «Ah! Luisa, Luisa, ove sei?...»).Wurm arrives and announces that Miller has been sentenced to death for drawing his sword in the Count’s presence. He proposes an exchange to Luisa: her father shall be freed if she promises to write a letter declaring that she loves Wurm and that she deceived Rodolfo for reasons of personal interest.At first Luisa refuses indignantly, but then in her despair accepts, since there is no other way of saving her father (scena and aria «Tu puniscimi, o Signore»).Wurm forces her to follow him to the castle, to confirm her declaration before the Count and the duchess.
The castle: Walter’s apartments.
Walter, alone in his rooms, meditates on the plot fabricated to distract his son from his unsuitable love (recitative «Egli delira»). Wurm enters and informs the Count that the plot has been successful. The two men recall the murder of the old lord of Walter, which enabled the Count to gain power by taking possession of the victim’s feudal estate. Before dying –Walter recalls – the old man had just managed to disclose the names of the assassins to Rodolfo, who thus knows what really happened (scena and duet «L’alto retaggio non ho bramato»). The duchess Federica enters and Wurm goes out. From a secret door Walter has Luisa brought in. The duchess questions her and the girl, under threat fromWurm who has accompanied her, confirms the contents of the letter (scena and quartet «Presentarti alla duchessa»).
A hanging garden at the castle.
A peasant has delivered to Rodolfo, upon instructions from Wurm, the letter from Luisa. The young man is at first incredulous, but when he recognises Luisa’s handwriting he lets loose his bitterness at her betrayal of their love (scena and cantabile «Quando le sere, al placido»). He calls Wurm and, handing him a pistol, challenges him to a duel. But Wurm, like a coward, throws the weapon into the air and runs away. The noise attracts the Count and other people. Struck by his son’s desperation,Walter declares himself ready to yield. Rodolfo however reveals Luisa’s betrayal. Then the Count advises his son to get his revenge by marrying Federica. Rodolfo despairs, while everybody exhorts him to trust in his father’s counsel (cabaletta «L’ara, o l’avello apprestami»).
Luisa is seated at a table writing a letter, observed by Laura and the peasant girls (scena and chorus «Come in un giorno solo»). The church is lit up for the forthcoming marriage of the Count’s son, but no one has the courage to reveal the truth to Luisa. Miller has been released and arrives to thank his daughter for having sacrificed herself for him. Luisa hands him the letter she has written, begging him to forward it. Miller reads the page in which Luisa discloses the truth to Rodolfo and gives him an appointment for midnight, allowing him to understand that she intends to take her own life (scena and duet «La tomba è un letto sparso di fiori»). But then in answer to her father’s plea she tears up the letter and promises not to abandon him.They will stay together, go away and live in poverty. Luisa, left alone, kneels down (scena «Ah! l’ultima preghiera»).
While she is praying Rodolfo appears at the door, wrapped in a cloak. Unseen by her, he pours poison into the jug of water on the table. Then he shows Luisa Wurm’s letter and asks her if it is true. Bound by her oath, the girl confirms that it is. Rodolfo then drinks the poisoned water, hands the glass to Luisa and tells her that they will both soon die (duet «Piangi, piangi... il tuo dolore»). Luisa confesses the truth. Rodolfo in despair curses himself and comforts her in her dying moments. The couple ask Miller, who has just appeared on the scene, for his blessing and forgiveness (final trio «Padre! Ricevi l’estremo... addio!»). Luisa dies. Meanwhile Wurm,Walter and the peasants have entered. Rodolfo runs his sword through Wurm and drops lifeless beside Luisa’s dead body.