A lost letter

Dan Dediu

Libretul libretto by Ştefan Neagrău, inspired by the homonymous play by Ion Luca Caragiale

opera in two acts and a prologue by Dan Dediu


Romania. A provincial town. Fog. In the street, under a lamppost, lies a letter. It is a love letter written by the prefect to the wife of his best friend, Zaharia Trahanache.  A drunk citizen finds the letter and reads it amused, but he is caught by the supporters of Nae Caţavencu, the authorities’ opponent in the approaching elections. Caţavencu manages to snatch the letter, then notifies the local newspaper which he is running to publish a compromising letter written by the prefect, the “vampire” Tipătescu, to an “influential lady”.

Act 1
Tipătescu orders the city cop, Pristanda, to find out what letter it is. The latter, unhappy yet servile, obeys the orders.

Lawyers Farfuridi and Brânzovenescu, eternal election candidates on the part of the government, are spying Caţavencu’s editorial office, “The Roar of the  Carpathians”, and see Trahanache coming out from there. Later on, they also see Zoe, Trahanache’s wife. The facts seem strange: why are the two people visiting the opposition?

At Tipătescu’s home, Trahanache tells his friend that Caţavencu has showed him a love letter sent by Tipătescu to Zoe and has threatened that, unless his candidacy in the parliamentary elections are supported, he will be publish it in the newspaper. Trahanache believes (or wants to be publicly believed) that the letter is a forgery. Concerned that his relationship with Zoe will be made public, Tipătescu plans to arrest Caţavencu.

Zoe also goes to the editorial office, in the city square, followed by Farfuridi and Brânzovenescu. The two are now convinced that the power deals with the opposition and plot a betrayal. They note that Pristanda also enters Caţavencu’s house in order to arrest him, and they decide to request explanations from Trahanache.

Zoe also learns about the existence of the letter from Caţavencu, who blackmails her: he will return the letter only if the power, represented by her husband and the prefect, supports him at the elections. Tipătescu reproaches Zoe of having lost the letter; he wants to run away with her, but she refuses.

Meanwhile, Trahanache tries to ease Brânzovenescu and Farfuridi’s suspicions of treason. Desperate at the prospect of becoming the laughing stock of the whole town, Zoe tries to persuade Tipătescu to support Caţavencu. She also orders the cop to bring Caţavencu for negotiations.

Farfuridi and Brânzovenescu are not convinced by Trahanache, so that they want to send an anonymous dispatch to Bucharest, to the headquarters of the party, the Ministry and the newspapers, in order to reveal the betrayal: the support of the independent candidate, Caţavencu.

Caţavencu, kindly brought by the cop at Zoe’s request, hopes to talk to her, but meets Tipătescu instead. Caţavencu wants the deputy mandate, but Tipătescu becomes aggressive, unwilling to give up. Zoe interferes, promising Caţavencu that she and her husband will support him. Eventually, Tipătescu gives up too, provided the letter is returned to them.

The drunk citizen shows up and insists to be told whom to vote the next day.  Tipătescu shows him ironically the new candidate, Caţavencu. When seeing him, the citizen reveals how he has found the letter and how he has been intoxicated by Caţavencu in order to steal it from him.

Brânzovenescu and Farfuridi burst into the house, followed by Trahanache. Upon seeing Caţavencu, Farfuridi has the proof that the prefect has come to an agreement with the opposition. Zoe tries to persuade her husband to support Caţavencu as well.

Pristanda, the cop, brings an urgent dispatch from Bucharest. The party has decided to support the candidacy of an unknown person, Agamemnon Dandanache.

 Act 2

Tipătescu and Zoe dance in eachother’s arms, in the prefect’s office. Their love is threatened.
The meeting for the nomination of the deputy candidates takes place in the courtroom, next to the office. It is chaired by Trahanache. Farfuridi hopes to be that candidate, himself. There are two groups: the supporters of the power and of Farfuridi, led by his friend Brânzovenescu, and the opposition, led by the independent candidate Caţavencu. Farfuridi gives a solemn, endless speech, interrupted occasionally by the members of the opposition.

In the office next to the courtroom, Zoe and Tipătescu try to persuade Trahanache to support Caţavencu, but Trahanache already has the solution. Caţavencu has forged a policy and so he can be blackmailed, in his turn, with this document. They are therefore saved and can nominate Agamiţă Dandanache.

In the courtroom, Caţavencu gives a fiery speech. The cop Pristanda asks Trahanache to officially announce the candidate supported by the power, in order to be able to attack Caţavencu and his men. Trahanache announces, to everybody’s astonishment, the candidate Dandanache. Caţavencu is on the verge of revealing the letter, but a general scandal, organized by Pristanda, bursts out. Zoe, Tipătescu and Trahanache go to a card game.

A few days elapse. Zoe is troubled by the strange disappearance of Caţavencu and by the fact that the newspaper has not to published her letter. Dandanache has every chance of winning, and she fears that after the elections, Caţavencu will publish the love letter, out of revenge. She holds possession of his forged policy and wants to return it in exchange of the letter. Caţavencu appears, literally and figuratively distraught. He knows about the policy and is willing to give it in exchange of the love letter, but… he has lost it in the middle of the riot at the meeting. The drunk citizen comes in; having participated in the meeting, he has got by chance Caţavencu’s hat, in whose lining he has found the compromising letter. He gives Zoe the letter, saving thus her honor. Caţavencu apologizes to her, and she promises to save him, on one condition: to lead the rally after the elections.

Trahanache brings the future candidate, Agamiţă Dandanache. This one turns out to be not only a greenhorn, but even a more dangerous blackmailer. In order to run as deputy, he acted like Caţavencu: getting by chance a compromising letter, he never returned it to the owner and kept it for future blackmails.

After the elections, Agamemnon Dandanache turns out to be the winner, and the officials organize a big party in town. Master of ceremonies is none other than Caţavencu, who has come to friendly terms with the power. Dandanache and Trahanache recount their election adventures, which involved, in both cases, letters. Caţavencu raises public praises to his former political enemies, with whom he is now reconciled.