First Performance: 30 November 1848, Teatro San Carlo,

Principal Characters:

Poliuto Tenor
Paolina, his wife and daughter of Felice Soprano
Severo, proconsul Baritone
Callistene, high priest of Jove Bass
Nearco, head of the Armenian Christians Tenor
Felice, governor of Mitilene Tenor

Time and Place: Mitilene, capital of Armenia, circa 257.


Act I

Poliuto has converted to the Christian faith, which is a forbidden cult.
During the night, Poliuto goes to join his brothers in faith at a secret
cavern. He is met by Nearco, to whom he alludes to his jealousy toward
Paolina. Poliuto enters the cavern where he receives the sacrament of
baptism. Unbeknownst to Poliuto, Paolina has followed him to the cavern.
Nearco confirms her fears that Poliuto has converted. He exhorts Paolina not
to disclose his secret. Felice, the governor and father of Paolina, has
decreed that those who embrace the Christian religion shall suffer death.
But, Paolina is also anxious because her former lover, Severo, is arriving as
the Roman proconsul. She had believed Severo had died in battle and thus
married Poliuto. The act concludes with Severo’s entrance and his learning of
Paolina’s marriage.

Act II

At the home of Felice, Callistene, the high priest of Jove and rejected
lover of Paolina, has arranged a meeting between Paolina and Severo. He has
also arranged to bring Poliuto who sees them together just as Severo declares
his love for Paolina. His honor stained, Poliuto vows revenge but then learns
that Nearco has been arrested. He immediately go to the temple where Nearco
is questioned by Callistene and Severo. He is asked to identify the person
baptized the night before. Nearco refuses to answer. Poliuto, however, comes
forward to confess. Paolina intervenes, begging Felice, Callistene and Severo
to save her husband. In a fit of pride, Poliuto curses Jove as a false god
and rejects his wife. Poliuto and Nearco are dragged away.


In the sacred wood near the temple of Jove, Callistene is irate. He
announces to the other priests that the Christians have decided to follow
Poliuto’s example and to seek martyrdom. Confined in a cell, Poliuto dreams
of Paolina transfigured by a strange light. He awakes and finds his wife
before him. She implores him to save himself and to reject the Christian
faith. He refuses. Suspecting Callistene’s treachery, he tells Paolina of
Callistene’s behavior. Paolina clarifies the situation. Poliuto explains that
his first obligation is to save his soul. Paolina decides to embrace
Christianity and asks to die with her husband. Poliuto and Paolina are then
sent to their execution.

here for the complete libretto.

Click here for the text of
Polyeucte by Pierre Corneille.

image_description=Pierre Corneille (1606 – 1684) by Jean-Jacques Caffiere (MusÈe du Louvre)
first_audio_name=Gaetano Donizetti: Poliuto
product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Poliuto
product_by=Maria Callas (Paolina), Franco Corelli (Poliuto), Ettore Bastianini (Severo), Nicola Zaccaria (Callistene), Rinaldo Pelizzoni (Felice), Piero De Palma (Nearco), Orchestra e Coro Della Scala di Milano, Antonio Votto (cond.).
Live performance, 7 December 1960, Milan.