In four acts by ALBERT LORTZING.
Text after FOUQUE'S tale.
With this opera Lortzing for the first time tried his genius in another
field. Until then he had only composed comic operas, which had met
with a very fair measure of success, but in this opera he left the
comic for the romantic and was peculiarly happy both in his ideas and
choice of subject which, as it happened, had previously had the honor
of being taken up by Weber. The first representation of Undine at
Hamburg in the year 1845 was one of the few luminous moments in
Lortzing's dark life.
His melodies are wonderfully captivating and lovely and the whole charm
of German romance lies in them.
The contents of the libretto are:
The gallant Knight, Hugo von Ringstetten has been ordered by the Duke's
daughter, Berthalda, to go in search of adventures, accompanied by his
attendant Veit. Being detained for three months in a little village
cut off from communication with the outer world by an inundation, he
sees Undine, the adopted daughter of an old fisherman, named
Tobias, and falling in love with her he asks for her hand. In the
first act we see the priest uniting the young couple. The Knight
recognizes in the old man a traveller, whom he once saved from robbers,
and is glad to see him. Undine behaves most childishly and finally
says that she has no soul. She is herself grieved, and the others do
not believe her. Hugo now tells them of the proud and beautiful
Berthalda, whose scarf he received in a tournament, and who sent him
away on this adventure. He then returns to the Capital with his young
wife, in order to present her at the Ducal court. Meanwhile Veit has
met Kuehleborn, the mighty King of the water-fairies, and is asked by
him, whether his master has quite forgotten Berthalda. The valet gives
as his opinion that the poor fisher-maiden is deceived, and will soon
be abandoned by her husband. This excites Kuehleborn's wrath, for
Undine is his daughter, and he forthwith resolves to protect her.
In the second act Undine confesses to her husband, that she is a
water-fairy, one of those, whom men call "Undinas". They have no soul,
but if they are loved faithfully by man, they are able to gain a soul
and through it immortality. Though he shudders inwardly, Undine's
purity and loveliness conquer Hugo's fright, and he once more swears to
be eternally true to her.
The proud Berthalda, who loves Hugo, has heard with feelings of mingled
anger and despair of the knight's marriage. She determines to honor
the King of Naples with her hand; but before her wedding takes
place, a sealed document has to be opened, which says that Berthalda,
instead of being a Duke's daughter, is a poor foundling. Kuehleborn,
who is present, declares that she is the real child of Undine's
fosterparents. Berthalda is now obliged to leave the palace. She
loathes her fate and curses her low-born parents. Then Kuehleborn
derides her and the attendants are about to seize him, in order to turn
him out-of-doors, when the statue of the water-god breaks into
fragments, while Kuehleborn stands in its place, the waters pouring down
upon him. All take flight, but Undine raises the prostrate Berthalda,
promising her protection in her husband's castle.
In the third act Berthalda succeeds in again drawing Hugo into her
nets. Though warned by the waterfairies not to perjure himself, he
neglects their advice and Undine finds him in the arms of her rival.
He repels his wife, and Kuehleborn takes her back into his watery
kingdom. But Undine has lost her peace of mind for ever, she cannot
forget her husband.
In the fourth act Hugo has given orders to close the well with stones,
to prevent all possible communication with the waterfairies. Undine's
pale face pursues him everywhere, he continually fancies to hear her
soft voice and touching entreaties and to stifle his remorse he
appoints the day of his wedding with Berthalda.
His attendant Veit, however, unable to forget his sweet mistress,
removes the stones, which cover the well. Undine rises from it and
appears at midnight at the wedding. Hugo, forgetting Berthalda, and
drawn towards his lovely wife against his will, falls into her arms and
dies at her feet. The castle comes crashing down, floods penetrate
everywhere, and carry Hugo and Undine into Kuehleborn's crystal palace.
Undine obtains pardon for Hugo, and his only punishment is that he must
forever stay with his wife in her fairy domains.
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