Prince Gonzaga, the ruler of the Italian province of Guastella, examines the portrait of Countess Orsin, a woman whom he loved until quite recently. He was always with her easily, joyfully and cheerfully. Now he feels different. The Prince looks at the portrait and hopes to find in it something that he does not already notice in the original. Prince seems that the artist Conti, who fulfilled his long-standing order, too flattered the Countess.
Conti reflects on the laws of art, he is pleased with his work, but is annoyed that the prince judges him no longer “through the eyes of love.” The artist shows the prince another portrait, saying that there is no original, more admirable than this. The prince sees on the canvas Emilia Galotti, the one that the last weeks are constantly thinking about. He notices the artist with careless negligence that he does not know this girl a little, once he met her with his mother in one society and talked with her. With the father of
Emilia, an old warrior, an honest and principled man, the prince is in bad relations. Conti leaves the prince a portrait of Emilia, and the prince pours out his feelings before the canvas.
Kamerger Marinelli reports the arrival of Countess Orsin in the city. The prince has a letter from the Countess that he just received, which he does not want to read. Marinelli expresses sympathy for a woman who “decided” to seriously love the prince. The marriage of the prince with Princess Massana is near, but this does not worry the countess, who also agrees to be a favorite. The astute Orsina is afraid that the prince has a new lover. The countess is looking for solace in books, and Marinelli admits that they “will completely finish her.” Prince prudently notices that if the countess goes mad with love, then sooner or later it would happen to her without love.
Marinelli informs the prince about the upcoming wedding of Earl Appiani on this day, until now the graph’s plans were kept in strictest secrecy. A noble earl marries a girl without a fortune and position. For Marinelli, such a marriage
is an “evil joke” in the fate of the count, but the prince envies someone who is able to give himself entirely to “the charm of innocence and beauty.” When the prince finds out that the count’s elect is Emilia Galotti, he despairs and confesses to the chamberlain that he loves Emilia, “prays to her.” The prince is looking for sympathy and help from Marinelli. He cynically reassures the prince, it will be easier for him to achieve the love of Emilia, when she becomes Countess Appiani, that is, “goods” acquired from second-hand. But then Marinelli remembers that Appiani does not intend to seek happiness at the court, he wants to retire with his wife in his Piedmontese possessions in the Alps. Marinelli agrees to help the prince provided he is given full freedom of action, to which the prince immediately agrees. Marinelli suggests the prince on the same day to hastily send the Count envoy to the Duke of Massana, the father of the prince’s bride, thus the Count’s wedding will have to be canceled.
In the house of Galotti, the parents of Emilia await a daughter from the church. Her father, Odardo, is worried that because of him, whom the prince hates for his intractability, the count will completely deteriorate his relationship with the prince. Claudia is calm, because at the evening at the Chancellor the Prince showed favor to their daughter and was, apparently, fascinated by her gaiety and wit. Odardo is alarmed, he calls the prince “sweetheart” and reproaches his wife in vanity. Odoardo leaves, not waiting for his daughter, in his family estate, where soon a modest wedding should take place.
From the church, Emilie agitated and tells her mother in confusion that a prince approached her in the temple and began to explain herself in love, and she barely escaped him. Mother advises Emily to forget about everything and hide it from the count.
Arrives Count Appiani, and Emilia notices, jokingly and gently, that on the day of the wedding he looks even more serious than usual. The earl admits that he is angry with friends who urge him to inform the prince about marriage before it is committed. The count is going to go to the prince. Emilia dresses up for the wedding and gaily chatters about her dreams, in which she saw pearls thrice, and pearls signify tears. The Count repeats the words of the bride about tears thoughtfully.
Marinelli appears in the house and, on behalf of the prince, instructs the earl to immediately go to the Duke of Massana without delay. The count declares that he is forced to give up such an honor – he marries. Marinelli with irony speaks about the simple origin of the bride, about the pliability of her parents. Count, in anger from the vile hints of Marinelli, calls him a monkey and offers to fight in a duel, but Marinelli with threats goes.
At the direction of Marinelli, the prince arrives at his villa, past which the road to the Galotti estate passes. Marinelli expounds to him the content of the conversation with the count in his interpretation. At that moment shots and screams are heard. These two criminals, hired by Marinelli, attacked the count’s carriage on the way to the wedding in order to steal the bride. Defending Amelia, the count killed one of them, but he himself was mortally wounded. The prince’s servants lead the girl to the villa, and Marinelli gives the prince instructions on how to behave with Emilia: do not forget about your art like women, seduce and convince them.
Emilia is frightened and worried, she does not know what state her mother and the count were in. The prince takes the trembling girl away, comforting her and assuring the purity of her thoughts. Soon, the mother of Emilia, just survived the death of the earl, who managed to pronounce the name of his true murderer – Marinelli. Claudia accepts Marinelli himself, and she brings curses to the head of the killer and “pimp.”
Behind the backs of Emilia and Claudia, the prince learns from Marinelli about the death of the count and pretends that this was not part of his plans. But the chamberlain has already calculated everything in advance, he is confident in himself. Suddenly they report the arrival of Countess Orsin, and the prince hides hastily. Marinelli lets the Countess understand that the prince does not want to see her. Learning that the prince is the mother and daughter of Galotti, the Countess, already aware of the murder of Count Appiani, guesses that it was a conspiracy between the prince and Marinelli. The enamored woman sent spies to the prince, and they tracked down his long conversation with Emilia in the church.
Odoardo is looking for a daughter after hearing about a terrible accident. The countess regrets the old man and tells him about the meeting of the prince and Emilia in the temple shortly before the bloody events. She suggests that Emilia could have conspired with the prince to murder the count. Orsin bitterly tells the old man that now his daughter expects a beautiful and happy life as a favorite of the prince. Odoardo is furious and looks for weapons in the pockets of his coat. Orsina gives him the dagger brought by her – to take revenge on the prince.
Claudia comes out and exhorts her husband that the daughter “keeps the prince from a distance.” Odoardo sends his exhausted wife home in the carriage of the countess and goes to the chambers of the prince. He reproaches himself for believing the Countess, who was mad with jealousy, and wants to take her daughter with her. Odardoo tells the prince that Emilia can only go to the monastery. The Prince is embarrassed, this turn of events will disrupt his plans for the girl. But Marinelli comes to the aid of the prince and uses clear slander. He says that according to rumors, not the robbers attacked the count, but a person who enjoys the favor of Emilia, in order to eliminate the rival. Marinelli threatens to call the guards and accuse Emilia of conspiring to assassinate the count. He requires interrogation of the girl and the trial. Odoardo feels that he is losing his mind, and does not know who to believe.
Emilia runs out to her father, and after the first words of her daughter, the old man is convinced of her innocence. They remain together, and Emilia is outraged by the violence and arbitrariness committed. But she admits to her father that more than violence, she is afraid of temptation. Violence can be repulsed, and the temptation is more terrible, the girl is afraid of the weakness of her soul before the temptation of wealth, nobility and seducing speeches of the prince. Great grief of Emilia from the loss of the groom, Odardo understands this, he himself loved the count as a son.
Emilia decides and asks her father to give her a dagger. After receiving it, Emilia wants to kill herself, but the father pulls out the dagger – it’s not for a weak female hand. Taking out the wedding rose from her hair and tearing off her petals, Emilia begs her father to kill her to save her from shame. Odoardo stabs his daughter. Emily dies in her father’s arms with the words: “They tore the rose before the storm took away its petals…”