Le villi is the first of twelve operas by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924). He wrote it in 1883 for a competition he did not win (perhaps because his hand-written manuscript was almost illegible) but it brought attention to the emerging genius of one who would find himself among the greatest opera composers of all time.
At the opening of the story, Roberto and Anna celebrate their engagement with Anna’s father, Guglielmo, and their village neighbors. Roberto must leave to take possession of an inheritance left to him in another city, Magonza. Anna has a fearful premonition that she will not live to see him return but Roberto reassures her.
However, upon reaching Magonza, Roberto is spellbound by wild life with another woman and forgets his beloved Anna who, indeed, dies of a broken heart. Guglielmo wants revenge for Roberto’s infidelity that brought about his daughter’s death. He recalls the legend of the villi, spirits of abandoned young women who died for love and who dance in the forest by night, seeking to ensnare unfaithful lovers.
Roberto, unaware of Anna’s death, repents and turns home to beg forgiveness but as he nears the village, he hears Anna calling to him and meets the spirits (Le villi) who draw him into their dancing embrace and to his doom.