Alessandro Stradella was, along with Henry Purcell and Heinrich von Biber, among the most striking and idiosyncratic composers of the late seventeenth century. He is known principally for his cantatas on sacred subjects such as "La Susanna" and "San Giovanni Battista," which prefigure Handel's oratorios, and from which Handel borrowed freely. Stradella's musical eccentricities were paralleled by his irregular life. A member of the minor nobility, he ran through his inheritance while young, and thereafter supplemented his musical earnings by questionable financial dealings that incurred the anger of influential families. These obliged him to flee Rome for Venice in 1677. At Venice he seduced the mistress of a patrician, who in consequence sent assassins after him. He fled again to Turin, then to Genoa, where he was finally klled in 1682. Responsibility for his murder has never been convincingly assigned. Stradella's life resembled a melodrama, and has indeed been made the subject of an opera by Flotow.
In a small Italian village, Maria De Ritis is engaged to army Lieutenant Pietro Stelluti. Stelluti's superior officer, Marshal Antonio Carotenuto, is contemplating marriage to Annarella Mirziano, but he will be forced to resign if he marries Annarella, since she has an illegitimate child and that is against regulations for army officers. When Stelluti leaves town for a few weeks, the town-gossips create an affair out of the innocent relationship between Maria and Antonio. Stelluti returns and accuses Maria of infidelity, and, she, in reprisal, runs off and joins a traveling theatrical troupe as a dancer. Antonio, after convincing Annarella that he has not betrayed her love, encounters more trouble when the father of Annarella's child shows up and asks that she and the child go away with him. Antonio tells Annarella that it is her decision to make, and she chooses the child's father and leaves with him.