Centoluci, 1928. Glitterati, movie stars, international press and teeming well-wishers descend on the tiny Alpine principality for the wedding of the decade. Suppressing all detractors, Centoluci has just restored its monarchy in a bold move to reinvent itself as the world’s most glamorous destination, boosting its global profile and generating investment; and now, forging a link with her moneyed American family, the beautiful Constance Nielsen is chosen as the perfect bride of Crown Prince Cedric. [PERFECT]
1969. The former Private Secretary to Princess Constance, Artu Gualtieri, has passed away. His grandson, Marcello, discovers that his inheritance has been whittled away for forty years by a standing order payment that his grandfather made to a music teacher on a Venezuelan island. Marcello travels to the island in search of an explanation.
The island of Margarita [FIND SOME SHADE]. The music teacher is a modest woman in her early sixties, Miss Vine. Convinced that he has discovered his grandfather’s mistress, Marcello is quick to demonize his grandfather, whom Miss Vine defends. She recalls a man of overwhelming kindness and wit. Marcello is in no mood for reminiscing but Miss Vine, determined to clear Gualtieri’s name, continues…
Hopes are high and the fairytale wedding of 1928 is everything it needs to be, but the new Princess struggles to find her footing [I WONDER]. She is determined to succeed [THE CONSTANCE EXPRESS] and becomes patron of the renowned Music Festival. Gualtieri becomes her guide and confidant but not even he can save her from making an appalling gaffe while discussing music at the Festival’s opening night [SHE’LL READ A SCRIPT]. It is one of the waiters who leans forward to discreetly correct her mistake and helps her to save face.
Constance is humiliated that a waiter at the Symphony Hall should know more about music than she, the patron! She instructs Gualtieri to engage for her a music tutor [THE CHANCE TO LEARN] but a series of candidates prove to be sycophantic, irritating and useless. Still mindful of the knowledgeable waiter, Constance suggests him for the job. Gualtieri counsels against such an outlandish breach of protocol but nevertheless makes enquiries when the Princess insists.
The waiter is Alvaro Vigna and he is indeed more than he first seems: a trained conductor, but a waiter by night and small-time music tutor by day. He refuses, however, to tutor the Princess. Indignantly, Constance visits his ghastly attic apartment and suggests that Alvaro, like her, is a fraud and knows less about music than was first supposed. Alvaro’s sarcastic retort [THAT’S ALL I KNOW] reveals his virtuosic musicianship – but he detests his beloved country’s sudden celebrity culture, and how the Princess epitomizes it. Constance finds Alvaro to be refreshingly irreverent. He is eventually taken aback by her disarming lack of pretense, and agrees to one lesson a week – not at the palace but in his attic.
Alvaro has an infectious musical passion and explosive teaching style. Constance, by contrast, is stiff and uptight, and Alvaro curtails a lesson to show her a shabby part of the city. At Bar Scuro, Alvaro and his old pal Rico jam in a much more relaxed approach to music [THE MEMORY OF YOU], but Rico, a staunch anti-royalist, recognizes the Princess and is appalled that Alvaro would associate himself with her.
Alvaro leads Constance up to a terrace. The view across the famous lake is mesmerizing [CENTOLUCI] and Alvaro confesses that his most heartfelt dream is to replace his dire, cell-like attic for an apartment with a view like this [A LITTLE BALCONY], from which he could take in the world. Constance admires Alvaro’s ambition and wishes she had such clarity, to which Alvaro replies that she must simply discover her own passion [BELIEVE IN ALL YOU DREAM].
The Grand Duchess Cesara is outraged that a piano instructor should take the Princess to a place like Bar Scuro, and Cedric reminds Gualtieri that keeping Constance under control is his responsibility.
Gualtieri has arranged for Alvaro to teach his next lesson at the palace, so as to “keep an eye on the situation.” When Alvaro arrives, his good-natured disregard for the authority and ostentation he finds there [OH, WHAT A BORE!] is irresistible to Constance [TOUCH ME], whose feelings for Alvaro begin distracting her from his teaching [THE KISS].
That evening, the Princess must deliver a pre-written speech. The subject is music scholarship, one that is immensely close to Alvaro’s heart. He strongly disagrees with her text, suggesting countless changes, but any would be unthinkable. When the moment comes, Constance nervously begins as planned, only then to deviate widely from the text, throwing in not just Alvaro’s changes but several of her own. She suddenly finds herself to be confident and articulate, and a champion of the underprivileged [WONDERFUL AND YOURS]. The expected polite applause is instead an ovation, and the nation takes her to its heart.
Uneasy whispering is all around [DEVOTEES & DISSENTERS] but Constance feels triumphant and credits Alvaro with all she has become.
The Grand Duchess Cesara, fearing a scandal that could easily reignite the revolutionary passions of the people, reminds the Princess of her duty [THE BURNING OF THE FLAGS].
But Constance is absorbed with Alvaro, and their ‘music lessons’ are now spent making love in his attic and planning a future [YOU’LL BE BEAUTIFUL]. They know they are breaking the rules but feel invincible. Constance has arranged for Alvaro to conduct at the Symphony Hall, fueling outrage from the Palace, incessant gossip in the international press [THE NEXT BIG THING] and a stark warning from Rico that it will end in disaster.
Shocked by scandalous reports, some investors, including Constance’s own father, are cancelling their sponsorship, and Centoluci’s once-perfect Princess seems now a dangerous liability. The next and final warning is from Gualtieri [LISTEN TO THE SILENCE] , who fears terrible consequences should it go unheeded.
The opening night of the 1929 Music Festival clashes with Constance’s regular music lesson, and the palace now presumes that nothing will make her miss a meeting with Alvaro, but they are wrong. She and Alvaro have spent the day saying goodbye. They have realized that they are not the great conductor and the glamorous princess: they are the disgrace of Centoluci. Impossibly painful though it is, there will be no more lessons, no more meetings – it is their duty [REPRISE: YOU’LL BE BEAUTIFUL].
When the Princess appears at the Festival Hall, she realises she is clearly not expected and, sensing danger, she commands Gualtieri to drive her back to Alvaro’s apartment. They find the building ablaze. In an attempt to rescue Alvaro, Constance bursts through onlookers to run inside, but it is hopeless: the flames and poisoning smoke make the stairwell un-scalable, and she passes out. Many saw her enter, no one saw her leave. But rescued by Gualtieri, the Princess regains consciousness on a mountain road to hear the news that she has perished along with her lover [NATIONAL ANTHEM]. Gualtieri drives her over the mountains, and across the border. Numbed with grief, Constance is secretly passed through Gualtieri’s network of contacts, given a new identity, and a new home, an ocean away.
Her story ends, Gualtieri had saved her life, and Marcello is in shock. He is in no doubt that he is in the presence of Princess Constance. She plans to come forward now and tell her story, but Marcello knows that she must not. Once identified as genuine, she would be hounded by a hungry press and an angry world. Existing in near isolation, Constance is oblivious of the iconic status that she holds. She has no idea that her revered speech and subsequent death spawned a foundation that has helped countless underprivileged musicians worldwide, that her photograph adorns teenager’s walls the world over, and that thousands gather at her statue every year, loving her because she died for love [SLEEP OUR SILENT PRINCESS]. She is overwhelmed that the dream that Alvaro inspired her to dream has been so completely realized and asks Marcello for one single favour.
Miss Vine, who is still Princess Constance, arrives in Centoluci to with the man who is still her husband, Prince Cedric. She asks for just two things: a modest pension and a small apartment in the block built on the site where Alvaro once lived…[NO.6 VIA GARIBALDI] Constance enters her new home. It bears quite a resemblance to Alvaro’s attic of so many years before, except for the light that pours in through giant windows, and a large set of glass doors leading out onto: a balcony. As she takes in the air and the glorious view, Marcello leads an elderly man towards her, barely able to walk, disfigured and blind: Alvaro. He knew she had survived, and that she would be beautiful, but he did not want her to ever know that he also existed in this state, scarred and no longer able to conduct. Never in the four decades since they parted has he seen the famous view, which he used to dream of. She is now his eyes, and she describes the scene to him in exquisite detail. They hold each other just as they did almost half a century earlier …and they are beautiful.