In three acts with a prelude, by HEINRICH MARSCHNER.
Text by EDUARD DEVRIENT.
The text to this opera, which was written by the celebrated actor and
sent to Marschner anonymously, so struck the composer by its beauty
that he adapted music to it, music which ought to be heard much oftener
on our stages, on account of its freshness and of its healthy dramatic
action, which never f
ags, but continues to interest and move the
hearer with ever-increasing effect till the end is reached.
The contents are as follows:
Hans Heiling, King of the gnomes, has fallen in love with a daughter of
the earth; the charming Anna. This maiden, a poor country-girl in the
first freshness of youth, has been induced by her mother to consent to
a betrothal with the rich stranger, whom she esteems, but nothing more,
her heart not yet having been touched by love.
In the prelude we are introduced into the depths of earth, where the
gnomes work and toil incessantly carrying glittering stones, gold and
silver and accumulating all the treasures, on which men's hearts are
Their King announces to them, that he will no longer be one of theirs;
he loves, and therefore he resigns his crown. All the passionate
entreatings of his mother and of the gnomes are of no avail. At
the Queen's bidding he takes with him a magic book, without which he
should lose his power over the gnomes, and after giving to her beloved
son a set of luminous diamonds mother and son part, Heiling with joy in
his heart, the mother in tears and sorrow.
In the first act Heiling arises from the earth, for ever closing the
entrance to the gnomes.
Anna greets him joyously and Gertrud, her mother, heartily seconds the
welcome. Heiling gives to his bride a golden chain, and Anna adorning
herself, thinks with pleasure, how much she will be looked at and
envied by her companions. She fain would show herself at once and begs
Heiling to visit a public festival with her. But Heiling by nature
serious and almost taciturn, refuses her request. Anna pouts, but she
soon forgets her grief, when she sees the curious signs of erudition in
her lover's room. Looking over the magic book, the leaves begin to
turn by themselves, quicker and quicker, the strange signs seem to
grow, to threaten her, until stricken with horrible fear Anna cries
out, and Heiling, turning to her, sees too late what she has done.
Angry at her curiosity, he pushes her away, but she clings to him with
fervent entreaties to destroy the dreadful book. His love conquers his
reason; and he throws the last link which connects him with his past
into the fire. A deep thunder-peal is heard. Anna thanks him
heartily, but from this hour the seed of fear and distrust grows in her
Heiling, seeing her still uneasy, agrees to visit the festival with her
upon condition that she refrains from dancing. She gladly promises,
but as soon as they come to the festival, Anna is surrounded by the
village-lads, who entreat her to dance. They dislike the stranger, who
has won the fairest maiden of the village, and Conrad the hunter, who
has long loved Anna, is particularly hard on his rival. He mocks him,
feeling that Heiling is not what he seems, and tries to lure Anna away
from his side. At last Heiling grows angry, forbidding Anna once more
to dance. She is wounded by his words and telling him abruptly, that
she is not married yet and that she never will be his slave, she leaves
In despair Heiling sees her go away with Conrad, dancing and frolicking.
In the second act we find Anna in the forest. She is in a deep
reverie; her heart has spoken, but alas, not for her bridegroom, whom
she now fears; it only beats for Conrad, who has owned his love to her.
Darkness comes on and the gnomes appear with their Queen, who reveals
to the frightened girl the origin of her bridegroom and entreats her to
give back the son to his poor bereft mother. When the gnomes have
disappeared, Conrad overtakes Anna, and she tells him all, asking his
help against her mysterious bridegroom. Conrad, seeing that she
returns his love, is happy. He has just obtained a good situation and
will now be able to wed her.
He accompanies her home, where Gertrud welcomes them joyously, having
feared that Anna had met with an accident in the forest.
While the lovers are together, Heiling enters, bringing the bridal
jewels. Mother Gertrud is dazzled, but Anna shrinks from her
bridegroom. When he asks for an explanation, she tells him that she
knows of his origin. Then all his hopes die within him, but determined
that his rival shall not be happy at his cost, he hurls his dagger at
Conrad and takes flight.
In the last act Heiling is alone in a ravine in the mountains. He has
sacrificed everything and gained nothing. Sadly he decides to return
to the gnomes. They appear at his bidding, but they make him feel that
he no longer has any power over them, and by way of adding still
further to his sorrows they tell him that his rival lives and is about
to wed Anna. Then indeed all seems lost to the poor dethroned King.
In despair and repentance he casts himself to the earth. But the
gnomes, seeing that he really has abandoned all earthly hopes, swear
fealty to him once more and return with him to their Queen, by whom he
is received with open arms.
Meanwhile Conrad, who only received a slight wound from Heiling's
dagger and has speedily recovered, has fixed his wedding-day and we see
Anna, the happy bride in the midst of her companions, prepared to go to
church with her lover. But when she looks about her, Heiling is at her
side, come to take revenge. Conrad would fain aid her, but his
sword breaks before it touches Heiling, who invokes the help of his
gnomes. They appear, but at the same moment the Queen is seen,
exhorting her son to pardon and to forget. He willingly follows her
away into his kingdom of night and darkness, never to see earth's
surface again. The anxious peasants once more breathe freely and join
in common thanks to God.