Torvaldo e Dorliska, dramma semiserio in two acts to a libretto by Cesare Sterbini, was first produced at the Teatro Valle, Rome, on 26th December 1815. The singers at the first performances were Filippo Galli (Duca d’Ordow), Adelaide Sala (Dorliska), Domenico Donzelli (Torvaldo), Raniero Remorini (Giorgio), Agnese Loiselet (Carlotta), Cristoforo Bastianelli (Ormondo).
The manuscript autograph scores are to be found in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
In an unspecified part of Northern Europe, Giorgio, keeper of the Castle of Ordow, together with his fellow-servants is awaiting the return from a mysterious nocturnal foray of his master, the Duke, a gloomy and quick-tempered man. As Giorgio and the chorus are going off, the Duke enters, frowning: he is angry because, in spite of having fought and killed his rival in love, he has not been successful in capturing the prey that he had hoped to secure as a result of so dangerous an undertaking. After he has exchanged a few words with Giorgio, Ormondo leads in the chorus of armed guards, and the Duke orders them to resume their search at once. Once everyone has left the stage Dorliska comes on, distressed by what has happened and exhausted by her long wandering through the night; she knocks at the castle doors, calling out the name of her husband, Torvaldo. After she has knocked repeatedly the doors are finally opened by Carlotta, Giorgio’s sister, who invites Dorliska in. They are joined by Giorgio, who has finally discovered the motive behind the Duke’s nocturnal adventure: an ambush that has left both dead and wounded. Disapproving of his master’s actions, Giorgio is already thinking of denouncing him to the authorities when he sees Carlotta appear, supporting the exhausted Dorliska. The girl tells them that she is Polish and relates that the previous day, following her marriage to Torvaldo, she had been attacked by a man who had paid court to her before and whom she had rejected several times. Giorgio guesses at once that this man is his master and reveals to Dorliska that the very place in which she has sought refuge is his castle. The girl attempts to run away but at this very moment the Duke comes in, overjoyed at seeing her, and in a dramatic exchange he reveals that he himself has killed Torvaldo, and he tells Giorgio and Carlotta to take good care of the girl. Meanwhile Torvaldo himself, who has escaped from the Duke’s ambush, reaches the gates of the castle; having learned that his bride is now at the Castle of Ordow he intends to free her by means of a ruse. In fact, he disguises himself as a shepherd and knocks at the castle doors, which are opened by Giorgio: at first he claims to be delivering a letter written to Dorliska by the dying Torvaldo, but then, impressed by a sense of Giorgio’s trustworthiness, he tells Giorgio his true identity and describes his plan. Meanwhile the Duke bursts in, demanding that Giorgio explain who the newcomer is. The supposed shepherd now shows the Duke the letter, in which Torvaldo himself, with his dying wish, urges Dorliska to marry the Duke who, reassured by this unexpected turn of events, decides that the shepherd himself shall deliver the letter to Dorliska. Whilst the three of them are going into the castle Ormondo passes by: he is worried about the situation and about his master’s fate. Meanwhile, inside the castle, Carlotta tries to comfort Dorliska, who is overcome with deep despair. They are joined by the Duke, Torvaldo and Giorgio, each of whom sympathizes with the girl for his own particular reasons. The Duke draws near to her, as does Giorgio, who gives Dorliska the letter: she reads it and faints. However, when it is Torvaldo’s turn to speak, Dorliska recognizes her husband’s voice and lets slip a cry of joy. The Duke realizes the situation at once and summons Ormondo and the chorus, ordering them to arrest Torvaldo.
In the castle dungeons Giorgio and the servants have agreed to deliver the Duke up to justice. Torvaldo, who is locked up in these very dungeons, joins them and is told of Giorgio’s plan. He begs Giorgio to protect Dorliska. In one of his apartments the Duke thinks over the situation and decides to confront Dorliska face to face. She is now brought before him by Giorgio and although the Duke speaks to her violently, she reacts with equal vigour to the tyrant’s threats. The two of them leave and Dorliska and Carlotta take the stage, trying to persuade Giorgio to disobey his master’s order that no one shall be allowed to approach Torvaldo’s cell: having contrived to get Giorgio’s keys from him, Carlotta prepares to lead Dorliska to join her husband. However, the Duke comes back in: he has decided to have Torvaldo put to death, and asks Giorgio for the keys to his cell. Giorgio is obliged to confess that he does not have the keys with him. The Duke is furious and drags Giorgio along with him towards the prison cells. Meanwhile, in the dungeons, Torvaldo tries to comfort Dorliska and reassure her that a happy ending is in sight. Carlotta, however, realizes that the Duke is about to burst in on them; raging, he threatens to kill them all but stops when he hears the ringing of an alarm bell. The mystery is explained when Ormondo arrives with the Duke’s guards: the people have risen against the Duke and are marching on the castle to seize him. Ordow tries to attack the insurgents, leaving Ormondo to guard the prisoners. Ormondo, however, decides not to follow his master’s orders and gives himself up to Giorgio, while the Duke comes back onstage disarmed, pursued by Torvaldo and the soldiers. The Duke is raving, almost losing his reason, and accuses his former victims of having conspired against him: he is arrested and led away. The opera ends with general rejoicing for restored peace and quiet.