Stiffelio/Aroldo is different from other operas
In most operas the tenor and soprano love each other, she is often married to a baritone. Still, as it is an opera we accept this love.
But this is an opera where the tenor and soprano love each other and they are also married, so the this is a true legitimate love. Unfortunately the soprano has been unfaithful to her husband. And so the opera begins with a soprano searching for forgiveness from the beginning to the end of opera. God's forgiveness and her husband's.
But between her and forgivenes stands her father and her husband both ruled by pride and their idea of honour.
The men's idea of forgiveness is not worthy of a true Christian.
STIFFELIO starts promising:
Colla cenere disperso
Sia quel nome e quel delitto;
Dio lo disse, Dio l'ha scritto:
Al fratel s'indulger.
The letters threatening to make clear that Lina has been unfaithful with Raffaele, is burnt. The Minister burns the proof of adultery with a God has proclaim that Brothers should indulge another Brother. (Forgiveness only for men?)
In a private dialogue he discloses more of his thought about the nature of forgiveness.
Vidi dovunque gemere
Oppressa la virtude,
Vegliardi vidi e giovani
Del vizio in schiavitude;
Vinto dall'oro il merito,
Delusa la giustizia,
E in mare di nequizia
Custodi del pudore,
Le donne, rotto il vincolo
Del coniugale amore . . .
Ben lo so, perdonami;
Il quadro troppo orrendo . . .
Ma ti rivedo, e apprendo
Che ancor v' fedelta
Che dite mai, Stiffelio!
Il ver . . . Guai se ingannato! . . .
È grande la vost'anima,
Ah no, il perdono facile
Al core non ferito;
Ma occulto sta nell'anime
Che nulla mano infrangere
He relates how terrible to see the women, keepers of innocence and of marriage, being unfaithful. And when Lina thinks he would have a great heart and be forgiveness himself. "Forgiveness is easy for the heart that is not hurt" (But to be true Christian is also to forgive the wound that are deep in our heart!!)
When in the end of act 1 suspicion has entered Stiffelio's heart he is raging about not getting to see the letter hidden in a book, a proof of infedelity. Just the opposite of the beginning of the opera. But this time he think that it is somebody he knows who has been unfaithful.
Non solo all'iniquo ch'ha il Maestro venduto,
Ma a quanti tradiscon m'udrete imprecare
A lui che s'insinua, che simula astuto,
Che insidia, che macchia il domestico lare;
Che stende la mano all'uomo ingannato,
E infame poi vanta l'onore involato! . . .
A lui per an·tema fia sol ch'io ripeta
Il carme ispirato del grande poeta . . .
He comes with an anatheme to all sinners/traitors.
In the end of act 2 of Stiffelio he comes again with forgiveness:
Sia l'offesa coperta d'oblio . . .
Il fratello perdoni ai fratello . . .
He demands that Brother forgives Brother.
But then Lina comes with her cries of Grazia!! (Grace! Forgiveness!) and then the table turns. He says to his wife. "La perfida sia maledetta". He condemn her. (Double standards: forgiveness to the men, condemnation to the women).
In act 3 does Stiffelio give Raffaele another chance, but offers no forgiveness only a divorce to his wife. When at last Lina can confess to her husband and she tells him he always loved him and that Raffaele was a tradimento. He choses to go the road of revenge towards Raffaele and a change to heal his marriage and forgive his wife that still loves her husband is forgotten.
Only when in the last scene he becomes a preacher again and opens the Holy Bible where the story of Jesus and the adulteress can he proclaim forgiveness. But can the husband forgive, can Stiffelio do it?
And thus the opera ends with the words "Perdonata! Iddio lo pronunziò."
What a sublime ending!!!!