In two acts.
With Text and Music by WILHELM KIENZL.
The author has learnt a great deal since the days, in which he composed
Urvasi. His music has become more original and more independant of
great models. The new opera, while not so poetical is eminently
touching and true; the text, founded on fact, runs smoothly and is
cleverly done, the verses being well adapted to the music. Like
Verga's Cavalleria the subject is such as to be impressive even without
It is necessary to explain the title of this opera, which signifies a
man who goes about reciting biblical verse after the fashion of street
singers. This means of earning a livelihood is unknown in Germany, but
forms a speciality in Austria.
The music of the first act puts one in mind of the Meistersingers; as a
whole it is very captivating, fresh and drastic, especially during the
nine-pin scene. The orchestra predominates, but there are truly poetic
airs, which will linger as much in the heart as in the ear of the
hearer. Such is: "O sweet days of my youth," and in the last act:
"Blessed are they who are persecuted," from Christ's Sermon on the
Mount. Another charming bit of music is the children's waltz, in which
the composer has paraphrased one of Lanner's well-known waltz-motives.
The first scene is laid in the village of St. Othmar in Austria, or
rather in the court of the convent of the Benedictines of that place.
Mathias, a young clerk of the convent has an interview with Martha, the
niece and ward of Frederic Engel, the rich warden of the convent.
John, Mathias' elder brother and the village-schoolmaster sees them
together. Being in love with the girl himself he warns her uncle of
his brother's courtship and excites his wrath against the lovers, so
that Engel, coming across the young people, gruffly tells Mathias, that
he has already chosen a rich bridegroom for his ward. In vain, the
lovers beseech the old man's pity, for his anger only waxes stronger,
and he goes so far, as to discharge Mathias, warning him to leave the
place altogether. Martha left alone bemourns her guardian's hardness,
and John, thinking to profit by the occasion approaches her and asks
for her hand. But he is so decidedly rejected by Martha, that he
swears to have his revenge.
Meanwhile the evening approaches, and the country-folk come to the inn
next to the convent, to play their game of ninepins.--During this very
animated scene Mathias finds Magdalen, his sweetheart's friend, whom he
entreats to take a message to Martha, asking her to meet him at
eleven o'clock in the bower near the skittleground for a last farewell.
John hears this and when night sets in and the gates of the convent are
closed, he remains outside alone, hiding behind the barn-floor. When
the clock strikes eleven Martha and Mathias approach the bower. They
swear to remain true to each other, come what may. Their tender words
excite John's jealousy to the utmost, and while the lovers are
engrossed with their sorrow and make plans for the future, he sets fire
to the barn-floor. Soon the flames leap up to the sky, but the lovers
are oblivious of everything, till they hear the watchman's cry of fire.
Mathias persuades Martha to hide herself; so he is found alone on the
place and seized by the crowd and brought before the warden. Engel at
once jumps to the conclusion, that he has been the incendiary, to
revenge himself for Engel's hard-heartedness, and despite his
protestations of innocence Mathias is put in chains and carried away,
while Martha, who comes out from her hiding-place falls back in a swoon
after proclaiming his innocence.
The second act takes place thirty years later in Vienna. Magdalen sits
under a lime-tree in the court of an old house and muses sadly over
days gone by. After long, lonely years she has found the school-master
John sick unto death, and now finds comfort in nursing him. Nothing
has ever been heard of Mathias again, and she wonders sadly what has
become of him. Children throng into the court, they dance around the
lime-tree, while an old organ-grinder plays pretty waltz-tunes to
their steps.--While they are dancing, an Evangelimann comes into the
court. He reads and sings to the children the verses from Christ's
Sermon on the Mount, and teaches them to repeat the melody. When they
are able to sing it faultlessly, he faintly asks for a drink of water,
which Magdalen brings him. She asks him, whence he comes, and when he
tells her, that his father's house stood in St. Othmar, she recognizes
in him her old friend Mathias. Then he relates his sad story, how he
lay imprisoned for twenty years, the real incendiary having never been
discovered. When he was set free, he returned home, only to find that
his bride had drowned herself. All his efforts to earn a livelihood
were fruitless; nobody would employ the convict, until he was at last
obliged to become an Evangelimann, and wandered from place to place,
preaching the gospel to the poor, and getting such small bounties they
could afford to give.--Exhausted by hunger and overcome by sad
remembrances Mathias sinks down on the bench half fainting, but is
revived by bread and broth brought to him by Magdalen, who earnestly
entreats him to return soon, and to bring comfort to the sick man she
The last scene takes place a day later in John's sick-room. He is
lying on a couch, a prey to bitter thoughts and pangs of conscience,
when his brother's voice reaches his ear from below, and dimly awakens
sweet memories in him. He bids Magdalen to fetch the singer, and when
the latter enters, he feels so drawn to him without recognizing
his brother, that he begs leave, to unburden his soul to him.
Mathias soon recognizing his brother is about to fold him in his arms,
but John despairingly shrinks from him, while confessing his guilt in
broken words and beseeching his forgiveness. The unfortunate Mathias,
whose life has been so utterly ruined by his brother, battles fiercely
with his natural feelings. But when he sees the wretched John on his
knees before him, so broken down and exhausted he finally forgives him.
With a last faint gasp of thanks John falls back and dies, while
Magdalen prays "And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that
trespass against us." Outside the children's voices are heard once
more: "Blessed are they, that are persecuted for righteousness' sake;
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."
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