Le Villi (The Willis or The Fairies) is an opera-ballo in two acts (originally one) composed by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Ferdinando Fontana, based on the short story Les Willis by Alphonse Karr. The original one act version was first performed at the Teatro dal Verne, Milan on May 31st, 1884. A revised, two act version was performed in at the Teatro Regio, Turin on December 26th, 1884.
Le Villi is Puccini's first stage work. It was written for a competition of one-act operas, but did not even earn an honorable mention. His supporters funded the first production, and due to the favourable reception, Giulio Ricordi agreed to take on the publishing. Ricordi urged the composer to expand the work, and Puccini did, producing a new version later that year, which was followed by modifications in 1888, and the final version in 1892.
The libretto is based in the Central Europa legend of the Willis, also used in the ballet Giselle and the opera Die lustige Witwe.
Act I. Family and guests dance at a celebration of the engagement in marriage of Roberto and Anna. Roberto must leave before the ceremony to collect an inheritance, and Anna worries that she will never see him again. Roberto comforts Anna. Intermezzo. Roberto is enchanted by a siren, and forgets Anna. Anna dies in his absence. The legend of the fairies (Le Villi) is explained. When a woman dies of a broken heart, the fairies force the heart-breaker to dance until death.
Act II. Anna's father, Guglielmo, holds Roberto responsible for Anna's death. The ghost of Anna lures Roberto into the forest. There, the fairies and Anna dance with Roberto until he dies of exhaustion at Anna's feet.