In three acts by ALBAN FOERSTER.
Text by HANS HEINRICH SCHEFSKY.
With this opera its composer has made a lucky hit; it stands far higher
than the "Maidens of Schilda", by dint of the charming subject, founded
on Auerbach's wonderful village-story: Die Frau Professorin. This
romance is so universally known and admired all over Germany, that it
ensures the success of the opera.
The music is exceedingly well
adapted to the subject; its best parts are the "Lieder" (songs) which
are often exquisitely sweet, harmonious and refined. They realize
Foerster's prominent strength, and nowhere could they be better placed
than in this sweet and touching story.
Though the libretto is not very carefully written, it is better than
the average performances of this kind, and with poetical
intuition Schefsky has refrained from the temptation, to make it turn
out well, as Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer has done in her play of L'orle,
which is a weak counterpart of Auerbach's village-tragedy.
The first representation of the opera took place in Dresden on June
18th of 1891; it won the success it truly deserves.
The first act which is laid in a village of the Black Forest,
represents the square before the house of the wealthy Lindenhost. He
wishes his only daughter Lorle to marry a well to do young peasant,
named Balder, who loved her from her childhood. But Lorle rejects him,
having lost her heart to a painter, who had stayed in her father's
house, and who had taken her as a model for a picture of the Madonna,
which adorns the altar of the village church. Lorle's friend Baerbele
guesses her secret, and advises her to consult fate, by wreathing
secretly a garland of blue-bells and reed grass. This wreath she is to
throw into the branches of an oak calling aloud the name of her lover.
If the garland is stopped by the boughs, her wishes are fulfilled, if
it falls back into the girl's hands, she must give up hope for the year.
Both maidens resolve to try their fate on the very same night, which
happens to be St. John's (midsummer-night) the true night for the
working of the charm.
Meanwhile the Hussars arrive, to carry away the newly enlisted
peasants. The sergeant willingly permits a last dance, and all
join in it heartily, but when the hour of parting comes the frightened
Balder hides in an empty barrel. Unfortunately his officer happens to
choose this one barrel for himself, deeming it filled with wine. When
it is laid on the car, the missing recruit is promptly apprehended.
The scene changes now to one of sylvan solitude, through which two
wanderers are sauntering. They are artists, and one of them,
Reinhardt, is attracted to the spot by his longing for the sweet
village-flower, whom he has not forgotten in the whirl of the great
world. Already he sees the windows of his sweet-heart glimmer through
the trees, when suddenly light footsteps cause the friends to hide
behind a large oak-tree. The two maidens who appear are Lorle and
Baerbele. The former prays fervently, then throwing her garland she
shyly calls her lover's name Reinhardt. The latter stepping from
behind the tree skillfully catches the wreath--and the maiden. This
moment decides upon their fates; Reinhardt passionately declares his
love, while Walter amuses himself with pretty Baerbele, whose naive
coquetry pleases him mightily.
The following act introduces us to Reinhardt's studio in a German
residence. A year has gone by since he wooed and won his bride; alas,
he is already tired of her. The siren Maria countess of Matran, with
whom he was enamoured years ago and whose portrait he has just
finished, has again completely bewitched him.
In vain Lorle adorns herself in her bridal attire at the anniversary of
their wedding; the infatuated husband has no eye for her loveliness,
and roughly pushes her from him. Left alone the poor young wife gives
vent to her feelings in an exquisite sigh of longing for her native
country. "Haett' ich verlassen nie dich, meine Haiden." (Would I had
never left thee, o my heath.)
A visit from her dear Baerbele somewhat consoles her and delights
Walter, the faithful house-friend. Balder, Lorle's old play mate,
still recruit, also comes in and gladdens her by a bunch of
heath-flowers. But hardly have they enjoyed their meeting, when the
prince is announced, who desires to have a look at the countess'
portrait. The rustic pair are hastily hidden behind the easel, and
Lorle receives his Royal Highness with artless gracefullness,
presenting him with the flowers she has just received. Her husband is
on thorns, but the prince affably accepts the gift and invites her to a
festival, which is to take place in the evening. Then he looks at the
picture, expressing some disappointment about its execution, which so
vexes the sensitive artist that he roughly pushes the picture from the
easel thereby revealing the two innocents behind it. Great is his
wrath at his wife's imprudence, while the prince exits with the
countess, unable to repress a smile at the unexpected event.
There now ensues a very piquant musical intermezzo, well making up for
the missing overture. The rising curtain reveals a brilliant court
festival. Reinhardt has chosen the countess for his shepherdess,
while Lorle, standing a moment alone and heart-sore, is suddenly chosen
by the Prince as queen of the fete. After a charming gavotte the
guests disperse in the various rooms. Only the countess stays behind
with Reinhardt and so enthralls him, that he forgets honor and wife,
and falls at her feet, stammering words of love and passion.
Unfortunately Lorle witnesses the scene; she staggers forward, charging
her husband with treason. The guests rush to her aid, but this last
stroke is too much for the poor young heart, she sinks down in a dead
The closing act takes place a year later. Walter and Baerbele are
married, and only Lorle's sad fate mars their happiness. Lorle has
returned to her father's home broken-hearted, and this grief for his
only child has changed the old man sadly.
Again it is midsummernight, and the father is directing his tottering
steps to the old oak, when he is arrested by a solitary wanderer, whom
sorrow and remorse have also aged considerably. With disgust and
loathing he recognizes his child's faithless husband, who comes to
crave pardon from the wife he so deeply wronged. Alas, he only comes,
to see her die.
Lorle's feeble steps are also guided by her friends to the old oak, her
favorite resting-place. There she finds her last wish granted; it is
to see Reinhardt once more, before she dies and to pardon him. The
luckless husband rushes to her feet and tries vainly to restrain
the fast-ebbing life. With the grateful sigh "he loves me", she sinks
dead into his arms, while a sweet and solemn choir in praise of St.
John's night concludes the tragedy.