Maometto II, a dramma per musica in two acts to a libretto by Cesare Della Valle, was first performed at Teatro San Carlo, Naples, on 3rd December 1820.
The singers in the first performances were Andrea Nozzari (Paolo Erisso), Isabella Colbran (Anna), Adelaide Comelli (Calbo), Giuseppe Ciccimarra (Condulmiero), Filippo Galli (Maometto II), Gaetano Chizzola (Selimo).
The Sultan Mahomet II, at the head of his armies, has laid siege to the Venetian Colony of Negroponte in Greece, and is threatening to set fire to the city unless the gates are thrown open to him on the following day. Paolo Erisso, the Venetian commander, calls a Council of War to decide what shall be done. When Condulmiero proposes that they should lay down their arms and surrender, the young general Calbo urges them all to resist; they draw their swords and swear that they will fight to the death. Erisso, who is worried about what might happen to his daughter Anna, takes Calbo to her rooms and tells her that he has promised her hand in marriage to this young general, who will be able to give her better protection against the Mohammedan troops. With this end in view he tells her to go with them to her mother’s grave, where the marriage will be performed. However, Anna hesitantly informs her father that she is in love with Uberto, King of Mitilene, whom she met in Corinth whilst her father was away in Venice. It so happens, however, that the real Uberto was on board ship bound for Venice at the very same time as Erisso and so it becomes clear that Anna has fallen in love with an impostor masquerading under the name of Uberto. This explanation is now interrupted by the sound of cannon fire: under cover of darkness some traitor has opened the city gates to Mahomet. On parting from his daughter Erisso gives her a dagger and Anna declares that she is ready to stab herself rather than fall into the hands of the enemy. Then she goes into the church to pray.
At this point almost all Negroponte has been captured by the enemy and Erisso and Calbo are taken prisoner whilst defending their last stronghold, the fortress. When they are brought into the presence of the conqueror, Mahomet recognises Erisso as the father of Anna, the girl he loves, and he offers to spare the commander’s life on condition that the fortress is surrendered. When Erisso indignantly refuses, Mahomet orders that he and Calbo be dragged off to execution. Just as the guards are leading them off Anna comes out of the church, rushes up to them and, to the general amazement, recognizes in Mahomet the young man who had pretended to be Uberto, and with whom she had fallen in love. Threatening to stab herself, the girl begs the Sultan to free her father and Calbo, who, she says, is her brother. Mahomet grants her request and has the two men set free, but asks Anna to marry him. Anna dare not answer: doubtful and confused, she cannot decide between her father and her enemy lover.
Anna has been taken by force to Mahomet’s encampment. In spite of the luxury surrounding her and the blandishments of the young Mahommedan women, who try to encourage her to abandon herself to the joys of love, she tries to run away but is stopped by Mahomet. He again tells her that he loves her, and promises to save her father and her “brother” Calbo if she will agree to marry him. Anna admits that she loves him in return, even if she refuses to give way to a feeling that goes against her country and the will of Heaven. Suddenly the news comes that the attack upon the fortress has been beaten back and the invaders are retreating, pursued by the Venetians. Mahomet therefore decides that he will lead his men personally in the new attack. In taking leave of Anna he gives her the Imperial ring that will guarantee her the respect and obedience of the Mohammedans, but warns her that if she has not changed her mind by the time he returns, she will find that he will be her lover no more, but instead the terrifying Sultan. Whilst Mahomet is preparing to set off, Anna hears an irresistible voice from Heaven, calling upon her to perform a heroic deed. Meanwhile Erisso and Calbo, fearing the vengeance of the enemy forces, have taken refuge in the underground vaults of the church. Before his wife’s tomb Erisso laments his daughter’s fate, but Calbo reassures him: Anna will never be capable of betraying her country. But now the girl herself bursts into the vault and gives her father Mahomet’s ring, together with some Turkish clothing that will disguise and protect him and Calbo in their escape. Anna, however, will not be able to go with them, because she is known to the Mohammedan soldiers and so nothing is left to her but self-sacrifice. However, she asks her father to join her in marriage to Calbo, before her mother’s tomb, in obedience to her mother’s wish of long ago. Erisso, deeply moved, joins the young people’s hands together and consecrates their union. When she is left alone, Anna hears the women praying in the distance: some of these women run in to warn her to escape, for the Mohammedans are searching for her, holding her responsible for their reversal of fortune. Happy in the knowledge that victory is near and that her loved ones are safe, Anna prepares to meet her fate. Some of Mahomet’s soldiers enter the vault and rush upon her to kill her. Anna offers herself calmly to their swords, but they are dumbfounded by the sight of a girl with such courage and dare not strike her. Mahomet comes in: without daring to look him in the face, Anna confesses that Calbo is her husband and not her brother and that her mother’s tomb, upon which her marriage has just been celebrated, will now be drenched with her blood. And so, to the horror of all, she stabs herself and falls dead before the tomb.