Millán's atmospheric score for this typical tragi-comic mixture draws on Venetian barcarolle rhythms, and maintains a high quality throughout. The beautifully scored Dúo for Marietta and the jester, Miccone, with its important concertante parts for solo strings, breathes a heavily Spanish melancholy. The baritone's narrative song "Un conde fue" concludes with a breathless tarantella - a flight of musical daring which matches the dangerous theatrical situation.
Act 1 - A Venetian marketplace in the time of the Mediaeval Doges. The traders cry their wares to the crowd in a lively Coro: "Venid aquí, venecianos a comprar". The fencing master Marco offers his services to anyone anxious to protect himself in these dangerous times; an old sorceress burning incense offers fortune-selling; and the Jewish moneylender Zabulón quietly plies his trade amongst the crowd (Solos y coro: "El que quiere saber".)
Some women wonder what has happened to the handsome gondolier Paolo, who has not been seen for over a week. The sorceress predicts his imminent doom through the conjunction of a woman, a powerful man and a traitor; and the women mull over the city gossip - that Paolo's beloved Marietta has attracted the eye of the elderly Doge. The gondolier has gone to ground to escape the ruler's vindictive ire.
Marco silences the gossip, and the marketfolk drift away, mystified by the fencing master's atypical mood. His wife Rosina is even more baffled by his strange behaviour, and determines to get to the bottom of it. Marietta comes out of her house, deeply saddened by Paolo's disappearance but hopeful that the danger may pass, as she tells Marco in a lilting Romanza: "Ya muerto está, mi amor en flor" in barcarolle rhythm. A masked man approaches suspiciously, and she leaves before the stranger reveals himself as Paolo. Marco tells him the worst - the Doge wants to marry Marietta, and kidnap and condemn poor Paolo. The gondolier sings of the confidence born of love in a Romanza: "Pondré en la empresa mi fe y mi honor" in powerful bolero rhythm. Rosina, who has been watching unseen, believes she can hatch a plan to save Marietta, and they leave to plot in secret.
The Doge's jester Miccone visits Zabulón, revealed as the informer behind the plot to kidnap Paolo. Zabulón is naturally in it for the money, whilst Miccone is motivated by desire for Marietta, with whom he too is secretly in love. The Jew finds this highly amusing, and in their Dúo: "Inspiras risa así ... Si una mujer nos enamora" the two express their very different attitudes to amorous passion. They do agree on the need to find a confidential page who can be infiltrated into the palace to watch the future Doges' wife and lead them to the missing Paolo. Rosina, who has overheard, suggests to Zabulón that she would be the ideal candidate; and in a vivacious Viennese-style Duetto Cómico: "No es posible lo que pretendes" she convinces him by some heavy flirtation to give her the job. Rosina leaves with the moneylender, as Marco and Paolo reappear, wondering what she is plotting.
The Final begins as a group of Court Ladies and Gentlemen approach Marietta's house and greet the Doge's chosen wife with drums and brass (Coro: "El tambor con su son expresa".) Rosina calms Paolo, as Miccone formally asks Marietta to accompany them to the palace. She accepts the Doge's command with dignity, and when she is presented with flowers sings of her happiness - although the song's tender melancholy contradicts her words (Canción y concertante: "Las flores de mil colores".) The 'Doge's wife' is carried into the palace, with her 'page' and the courtiers, leaving Paolo alone to swear that he will rescue Marietta, even at the cost of his own life.
Marco whispers from a boat on the canal for Rosina to unlock the gate, which she manages to do despite the suspicions of the lurking Miccone. Paolo appears in his own gondola with a group of mandolinists, who provide cover with a lilting Barcarola: "Ya duerme Venecia tranquila" as Paolo enters the palace. The lovers sing of their happiness at being reunited (Dúo: "Tu voz resonaba".) Marietta and Paolo enter the gondola, but before they can escape the Doge breaks in, led by Miccone and the Pages, and the palace guard detain the fugitives.
Scene 2 - An anteroom to the infamous Court of Ten. Zabulón and the sympathetic Captain of the Guard await Paolo's certain sentence of death. They are joined by Rosina and her friend, Cordalia: although there is little to be done for Paolo, perhaps some diversion might be arranged at the moment the condemned man appears on the Bridge of Sighs to receive the formal Viaticum before proceeding to execution. The ten judges leave the courtroom in their masks and red robes, and Rosina is amazed when the last of them raises his visor to reveal himself as Marco!
Miccone watches the judges depart, and when Marietta with one last, desperate effort begs him to save her beloved, the jester's heart melts. In the intense, brooding Dúo: "Miccone ... Tras de esa puerta un hombre" he swears to save Paolo, whatever the cost.
There is a cry from Rosina - the death sentence on Paolo is confirmed by Marco, and with one kiss Miccone quietly leaves Marietta with her friends. An orchestral Intermedio recalling the Dúo for Miccone and Zabulón "Si una mujer nos enamora" leads to ...
Scene 3 - The Bridge of Sighs, at first light. Led by the Captain of the Guard, Paolo begins his sad progress over the bridge towards the gibbet, watched from the palace balcony by Miccone, and from the canal bank by Marietta and the crowd. Paolo sings farewell to the world in a brief, heartfelt Romanza: "Ven a mí, muerte querida" as he waits for the formal arrival by black gondola of the Viaticum.
As the bell tolls, the boat - rowed by Marco - approaches, and Miccone disappears into the Palace. To everyone's surprise the Viaticum is landed, not at the Bridge, but by the Palace. All is made clear when Miccone reappears: it is needed for the Doge in his death agonies, struck down by the jester's hand (Final: "Venecianos: El Dux acaba de ser herido".) Paolo is freed to embrace Marietta, and as day breaks, the assassin Miccone gives himself up into the Captain's charge.