|FLAMMIRO, in women's clothes under the name of Celia, lover of Lucinda
|LUCINDA, sister of Lelio
|EMILIA, niece of Teodoro
|FILANDRA, Emilia's old nurse
|LELIO, an English gentleman, brother of Lucinda
|FRONZO, servant of Pancrazio
|SCORBIO, servant of Flammiro
|PANCRAZIO, merchant in Livorno, warden of Lelio and Lucinda
|TEODORO, merchant from Livorno / SER MOSÉ, jew
Flammiro is in love with Lucinda, and she with him. He has travelled all the way from Palermo to Livorno just to see her again, bought himself women’s clothes and acted in a comedy in Uncle Teodoro’s house. All for nothing. Lucinda wasn’t among the audience. The miserly uncle shows him the door without pity, and now Flammiro’s servant Scorbio has to listen to the sad story of his master’s beloved, the daughter of one of Charles I’s courtiers who fled to Italy to escape the English Civil War (1642–1649). After their father’s death, Lucinda and her brother Lelio were taken in by the rich merchant Pancrazio.
Lelio has just got over his unrequited passion for Emilia, who is Teodoro’s ward and Flammiro’s cousin. He catches sight of Flammiro, still dressed as a woman, and falls in love head over heels. When Flammiro, alias Celia, simulates a fainting fit, Lelio helpfully suggests putting "her" up with his sister Lucinda – an opportunity that is too good to miss for Flammiro/Celia.
Lucinda’s guardian, Pancrazio, has just left with his servant Fronzo to serenade Emilia, whom he intends to marry. It isn’t Pancrazio’s beloved who hears his song but her nurse Filandra. She comes to the window only to chase away the nuisance of an admirer and his servant by throwing stones at them. Her master, Teodoro, is also hit by some stones upon entering his home.
Emilia, who, like Lelio, has a penchant for self-torture, reproaches herself for not having accepted her suitor. She asks her nurse to find out with the aid of magic who her rival is. Meanwhile, Fronzo has fled from Filandra’s hail of stones to the Jewish cemetery and has hidden himself in a grave. He hears how Filandra manages to persuade Mosè, who is Jewish, to break the Sabbath and help improve Emilia’s chances with Lelio by means of magic. To do so, Mosè needs all kinds of disgusting things including the finely sliced heart of a human corpse. Just as he is about to plunch his knife into the body he has chosen, it turns out to be Fronzo, who gives Mosè a proper beating. Flammiro arrives, now dressed as a man. Lelio barges in and learns that Flammiro, who is the alleged brother of his new flame Celia, has come to pick her up.
Without hesitating Lelio goes to look for her. Pancrazio appears and Flammiro hides. But the old merchant is so absorbed in his plans of getting married and drawing up the marriage contract that he fails to notice that, right next to him, his ward Lucinda has put on the coat and hat left by her lover. Consequently, he believes her to be an intruder and throws her/him out of the house. In the midst of all the chaos, Pancrazio discovers Flammiro (whom he hasn’t met yet) and wants to bring him before the magistrate. Lelio tells him that Flammiro is looking for his sister Celia, who is allegedly staying in Pancrazio’s, unknown to him. All of a sudden, Pancrazio dashes off to show the unknown woman the door, which amuses the two young men for different reasons. —
The two merchants Teodoro and Pancrazio celebrate the good business deal that Pancrazio’s marriage with Emilia means for them. She, on the other hand, is not pleased when the nurse tells her what lies in store for her. But then Scorbio arrives on the scene with instructions from Emilia’s cousin Flammiro. He asks her to accept the marriage proposal, to offer no resistance and count on his help. Pancrazio is in such good spirits that he challenges Death. His punishment follows instantaneously: his guests at the wedding celebration taunt him, the bride makes advances to Lelio, and, last but not least, even the statues begin to move. They gorge themselves on the marriage feast and start to dance, which causes the diners to disperse in flight.
Lucinda has returned to her guardian’s home and has asked Flammiro to meet her there. Neither of them knows how to cure Lelio of his passion for the made-up Celia. So Flammiro continues to play her part. Pancrazio and Fronzo return from the cancelled wedding and want to go to sleep immediately. Lelio doesn’t like this because he believes Celia is hiding in the alcove, which results in a scene in which the guardian and the ward think that the other is either crazy or drunk.
To cure Lelio, Flammiro takes him to see Emilia, now dressed as Celia, and confesses to him that Celia doesn’t exist. Reminded of the promises he made to Emilia, Lelio repents and returns to his former love. Meanwhile, Scorbio has prepared the stage for a dream play and put a sleeping potion in the wine of the two old men. In their stupor, they finally consent to their wards’ marrying each other.
"For the first time in 351 years, the opera ‘Le nozze in sogno’ (The Wedding in a Dream) was to be heard, after being identified only in 2013 by two Florentine musicologists as the work of the Tuscan composer and Innsbruck court musician Pietro Antonio Cesti (1623–1669) ... That which a young ensemble of singers brought back to life was in fact wonderful music, a discovery that experts predict will have a future on the major venues for Baroque opera... this astonishingly complex work, which is designated in the manuscript as a ‘citizens’ opera’ and ‘dramatic spoof’: it has melancholy, intimacy, and hints of tragedy, and the then highly effective influence of Spanish theater culminates in a final sleep and dream scene in which comedy becomes allegory, and the music, until then an organic flow of recitatives, ariosos, and arias, unexpectedly takes on a madrigal character. A wonderful effect that suggests a close collaboration between the composer and librettist." (Süddeutsche Zeitung)
"Cesti’s music displays enchanting flair in partly short, partly longer arias, but even more in delightful duets and madrigal-like ensembles." (Die Presse)
"The librettist Susini contrived a true panopticon, a heart-warming comédie humaine, a tragicomedy that surpasses itself in dream.... just what every full-blooded theater producer was waiting for ... great, touching, post-Monteverdian music, which offers beautiful arias, ariosos, recitatives, ensembles, and quasi-madrigals." (Orpheus)