According to his daughter Helene, writing in her biography of her father, by the time Raff came to compose his final opera, Die Eifersüchtigen (The Jealous Ones) WoO.55, he was doing so entirely for his own pleasure, accepting that there was no practical prospect of a performance. Raff had a compulsion to create, and he found relaxation from the stresses of his demanding role as Director of the Hoch Conservatory, by composing in his free evenings after work.
As with Samson, Die Parole and Benedetto Marcello, the opera's libretto is Raff's own work, written in August 1880 when on holiday overlooking Lake Biel, at Magglingen in Switzerland. Its inspiration is unknown. The plot which, with its comic complications, coincidences and reliance on farce, resembles that of its modestly successful predecessor Dame Kobold, nonetheless failed to impress Raff's actress wife, Doris. Helene Raff wrote: "He hadn’t been able to agree at all with his wife about the libretto ... she wasn’t blinded by her love for her husband and, having a strong natural feeling for the dramatic, predicted that not even such attractive music could make up for the somewhat innocuous plot." [tr. Alan Howe]
Raff began work on the composition in spring 1881 and work on it occupied him intermittently until spring 1882, only a few months before he died. Die Eifersüchtigen remains in manuscript and has never been performed. Lasting almost two hours, it is structurally somewhat unbalanced, with the first Act taking up about half the the total length of the piece, and Act 2 lasting only slightly over 20 minutes.
Don Geronimo, Florentine nobleman (bass); Don Claudio, his son (bass); Donna Rosa, his niece (soprano); Don Giulio, nobleman from Padua (tenor); Donna Bianca, his sister (soprano); Beppino, Don Giulio’s servant (bass); Ninetta, Donna Rosa’s servant (soprano)
Sbirri (city watchmen), Servants and Boatmen.
Florence in 1555.
In Don Giulio’s villa, Beppino complains that everything and everyone in the household depends on him, while he remains separated from Ninetta, his love. Giulio enters and Beppino tells his master that he is concerned that Giulio’s shyness with ladies will hamper him. He should act more boldly, but Giulio despondently replies that the lady he loves, Donna Rosa, may instead love her cousin. Beppino retorts that Rosa hasn’t even seen her cousin. He reveals that Ninetta is her maid, and offers to help his master in his pursuit of Rosa, if Giulio will reward him by enabling him and Ninetta to marry. Giulio agrees and, once his servant has left, revels in thoughts of a blissful future with Rosa. Donna Bianca, newly arrived in Florence from Padua, interrupts his reverie. She too is in love, but she will not reveal her lover’s name. Over breakfast Giulio tells Bianca of his one meeting with Rosa: he saw her faint in a crowded square in the city and rushed over, lifted her up and carried her out of harm’s way, where her companions, an old man and a maid, had revived her. Although she had given him a look of loving gratitude, the old man had merely thanked him coldly, and Giulio couldn’t then stay without impropriety. He hoped to follow them home, but they had become separated in the crowd. He had only found out more about them that morning. Bianca wishes him well in his endeavours and he leaves, recommending Beppino to her. Left alone with her thoughts, she worries why Don Claudio, whom she loves, left Padua so suddenly. She re-reads his note to her: his father commands him to return to Florence, but he will return to her. She is tormented by the thought that he is cheating on her, although she knows him to be chivalrous. Beppino enters, and Bianca asks if he knows of Don Geronimo. The servant confirms that he does, and that Geronimo’s son Claudio is expected soon from Padua. He suspects that Geronimo intends his son to marry his niece Rosa who, although beautiful and rich, is an unruly handful, especially so as she is now interested in another nobleman. Seeing her upset at the thought of Claudio marrying, Beppino offers to help Bianca. She asks him to do what he can to prevent Claudio’s engagement to Rosa, and he agrees, provided she absolves him of any responsibility for the consequences. The scene changes to Don Geronimo’s estate next to the River Arno. Ninetta, alone, bemoans her circumstances: she and Beppino love each other, but are forced to live apart. He arrives and tells her that he has given Giulio her information about Rosa, but hasn’t told him that she loves her unknown rescuer in the square. As Giulio has promised Beppino to assist the servants to marry, they resolve to help bring the noble couple together. Beppino has a plan: when Geronimo, Claudio and Rosa dine overlooking the river that afternoon, a gondola with two passengers will pass by. When she sees them, Ninetta is to exclaim “Oh, what a lovely couple!” Beppino will be hiding nearby. Perplexed, she agrees. As they leave, they happily look forward to married life. Rosa arrives, miserable because her uncle drove away the man who rescued her in the square, with whom she has fallen in love. She has no interest in Claudio, but knows that Geronimo plans for them to marry. She will resist his plan. He enters, looking forward to his son’s arrival, and suggests their marriage to her, which she rejects. Claudio himself then arrives by boat, and is introduced to his cousin by his father. Rosa and Ninetta realise that he doesn’t know why he has been summoned.
A few hours after his return, Claudio is pining for Bianca; he longs to return to her and sings to revive his spirits. Rosa interrupts his song, which he tells her his beloved taught him, and she realises that he won’t marry her, as his father wants. He confirms this, saying that he intends to talk to Geronimo about marrying his Paduan lady. She asks for his help in frustrating Geronimo’s plans and, agreeing on condition that they treat his father kindly, he kisses her hand. Seeing this from a balcony, Geronimo is delighted, thinking that his plan is working. Claudio flirts with Rosa as Geronimo descends from the balcony, impressed that his son has so quickly captured his niece’s affections. He fondly remembers his own wedding, and looks forward to theirs. Claudio and Rosa return and all three settle down to eat beside the river, aided by Ninetta. In a gondola, Giulio and Bianca approach the villa and Ninetta, as planned, exclaims “Oh, what a lovely couple!” Rosa suddenly sees Giulio, recognising him as her mystery saviour, but is dismayed to see the woman with him. Claudio sees Bianca, and immediately accuses her of betraying him with another man. Geronimo does not understand what is happening. Beppino, emerges from hiding and explains to Ninetta, who is also at a loss, that everything is now all out in the open. Ignoring Geronimo’s protestations, the enraged Claudio decides to follow the gondola along the river bank. He leaves, armed with a sword, followed by Beppino. Rosa collapses into Ninetta’s arms as Geronimo looks on helplessly.
Beppino arrives at Giulio’s house, beckoning to two Sbirri, as he unlocks the courtyard gate. He tells them to look out for an agitated man and, giving them some money, suggests that they disarm him and hold him for his own safety. Claudio arrives at the locked gate and demands entry. When he tries to force his way in, Beppino calls the Sbirri, who overcome Claudio, disarm him, and take him away. As Geronimo arrives with Rosa and Ninetta, looking for Claudio, Giulio emerges from his house and he and Rosa recognise each other. He greets her joyfully, but she calls him a hypocrite, forcing him to confirm that the lady in the gondola is his sister. Beppino, whom Giulio has sent inside, returns with Bianca. Suddenly understanding the situation, Geronimo fulsomely greets Giulio, saying that they are there in the hope that his son is visiting. Asked if he has seen Claudio, Beppino is forced to describe what happened earlier at which, calling the servant a wretch, Geronimo leads everyone to the Sbirri headquarters. In a cell there, Claudio is full of self-pity at losing both Bianca and the respect of his father. He is alarmed when Giulio enters his cell, fearing that he will be assaulted, but his visitor introduces himself as Bianca’s brother, and explains that he has come to arrange Claudio’s release. The prisoner asks for proof of his good intentions, and in reply he hears Bianca singing the song she had taught him. They are joyfully reunited. Geronimo appears and Claudio introduces Bianca to him as his betrothed. The old man is pleased, but then worries about Rosa’s prospects. Overhearing him, his niece reassures him, for she intends to marry Giulio. Giulio and Geronimo greet this news joyfully. Beppino ruefully complains that things have turned out well for everyone but him and Ninetta, until Giulio suggests to Rosa that she brings Ninetta with her, so that the servants may wed, living together in the same household. The opera ends with everyone applauding the happy solutions to all their worries.