Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, was a sixteenth century composer and musician. The town of Gesualdo in Campania was also the place where he lived.
Spring was in the air. The capes of the two ladies strolling in the garden were fluttering in the warm breeze. It was a glorious day, but Livia was in a dark mood.
“Something is not right,” she said to her mistress. “Every time I mention Prince Carlo’s name, people lower their eyes and fall silent. What are they holding back?”
“I don’t want to know,” Leonora d’Este said and heaved a sigh. “What’s the use of chasing rumors? The contract is signed. I must do my duty and marry the man my brother has chosen for me.”
Livia threw up her hands in frustration. “You must do your duty! You must do as your brother says! And what if it turns out that Prince Carlo is a monster?”
“He isn’t,” Leonora said. She held out a pendant dangling from a gold chain around her neck. Prince Carlo had sent her a locket with his portrait. She opened it for Livia to see. “You may judge for yourself,” she said.
The man in the portrait looked young and handsome.
“He has sensitive lips, don’t you think?” Leonora said.
Livia didn’t agree. “They look cruel to me.”
“Oh, Livia! I couldn’t love and obey a man who is cruel!” Leonora said,
Livia took her mistress’ arm and patted it fondly. “I didn’t mean to make you uneasy,” she said…
It’s true, she thought. Women have no say in marriage matters. Leonora was obliged to marry a man she did not know and might not be able to love. Livia knew her admirer Pietro very well and loved him dearly but… she had no dowry, and Pietro had no money of his own. He could not afford to marry her.
Livia forced herself to stop thinking about Pietro and took up the conversation again. “What does your brother say about the Prince?”
“I had only one question: Will I be able to love Carlo Gesualdo? But Cesare doesn’t care about love. Wealth and standing are all that counts with him.”
“Let me make inquiries,” Livia said. “I’ll ask Pietro. He was present at the marriage negotiations and can tell us what kind of a man Prince Carlo is.”
… But Pietro was puzzled as well… He had witnessed a strange scene during a hunting party arranged for the Prince… in the forest … where a camp had been set up.
Early in the morning Pietro was woken by the sound of a horse neighing. He parted the tent flap and …saw a solitary rider leaving the camp. The Prince! Pietro thought… He sensed an adventure coming his way and followed the rider. They were going in the direction of the river. Prince Carlo stopped, dismounted, and walked slowly forward toward the riverbank which dropped precipitously to the water’s edge some twenty feet below. Did he not realize how close he was to the brink, how close to taking a headlong fall into the river? The Prince was leaning forward now — Pietro shouted a warning and set off at a run. Without stopping to think, he tackled the Prince bodily and pulled him back. Don Carlo hung in his rescuer’s arms like a puppet, stiff, silent, insensate. Pietro lowered him gently to the ground and kneeled down beside him. The Prince’s face was pale, his mouth contorted and moving strangely as if he was chewing his tongue…Pietro fetched help, but the Prince’s steward did not exactly thank him…
He fixed Pietro with a hard stare…
Pietro bowed. He understood that he had seen what he was not supposed to see. But… he could not make sense of the incident. Was the Prince suicidal? Was he possessed? Was he suffering from the “sacred disease” – the falling sickness?