In the year of the world 1590 Don Carlo Gesualdo was the son of the Prince of Venosa and one of the most renowned composers of his time. But when he learned that his wife Maria had been cuckolding him for two years, he decided to set a trap for her and her lover, Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria, and assassinate them both.
He tells Maria that he going hunting and will be gone two days. She implores him not to go, asks him to hurry back, tells him that their bed will be cold without him. But the moment he leaves she sends for her lover who hastens to his mistress’s side.
The lover arrives and they slip into the marriage bed, make love, and then fall asleep in each other’s embrace. To protect himself from the cold of the night, the duke wears one of Maria’s night dresses. Then, around midnight, Carlo returns with three henchmen, all armed. He leads them to Maria’s chambers, and rings his valet, Bartodo, for something to drink. The servant is surprised that his master should be back so soon from his hunting. “You’ll see what quarry I’m after”, his master tells him, then arms himself with a dagger, a sword and a small harquebus.
The cuckold-husband and his servant join the three henchmen and they force their way into Maria’s apartments. Bartado deals with a nurse and a maid, while Carlo and his friends enter Maria’s boudoir where the unsuspecting lovers are blissfully sleeping. Later Bartado is to testify that he heard gunshots and insults, and then minutes later saw the three henchmen come out, followed by his master, his hands bloodied. Carlo asks the women servants where Laura is, the go-between of Maria and her lover, but happily for Laura she is absent that night. Then Carlo goes back into Maria’s chamber, followed by Bartado, to discover that his wife, though grievously wounded, is still alive. “Not quite dead, eh?” he says, and finishes her off. The duke is dead next to her, shot several times through the head. Then, according to legend, Carlo has the two mutilated bodies tossed into the street for all to see.
Carlo is not pursued by the justice system because of his high position in the Naples nobility. But he feels uneasy, fearing that his wife’s or her lover’s family will seek vengeance on him. So he seeks refuge in the family home and begins composing once more.
In 1584 Carlo becomes Prince of Venosa on the death of his father. He remarries, his wife gives birth to a boy, Alfonsino, who dies at the age of five, and rumours are rife that his wife has many lovers. Carlo himself takes a mistress, but he is tormented by his murder of Maria, and finds expiation for his deed by being flagellated by young men. In 1613 another son, Emannuele, is killed when he falls from his horse. Carlo is devastated by the death of his heir apparent, and he withdraws to his private chambers, surrounded by his demons. His only comfort is the flagellations to which he submits himself. Then, after almost three weeks, he is found dead, his body severely lacerated.
And so ended the life of Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, composer, musician, cuckold, murderer and masochist.