In four acts by FLOTOW.
Text by W. FRIEDRICH.
This charming opera finally established the renown of its composer, who
had first found his way to public favor through "Stradella".--It
ranks high among our comic operas, and has become as much liked as
those of Lortzing and Nicolai.
Not the least of its merits lies in the text, which Friedrich worked
dexterously, and which is amusing and interesting throughout.
Lady Harriet Durham, tired of the pleasures and splendours of Court,
determines to seek elsewhere for a pastime, and hoping to find it in a
sphere different from her own, disguises herself and her confidant
Nancy as peasant-girls, in which garb they visit the Fair at Richmond,
accompanied by Lord Tristan, who is hopelessly enamoured of Lady
Harriet and unwillingly complies with her wish to escort them to the
adventure in the attire of a peasant.--They join the servant-girls, who
are there to seek employment, and are hired by a tenant Plumkett and
his foster-brother Lionel, a youth of somewhat extraordinary behaviour,
his air being noble and melancholy and much too refined for a
country-squire, while the other, though somewhat rough, is frank and
jolly in his manner.
The disguised ladies take the handsel from them, without knowing that
they are bound by it, until the sheriff arrives to confirm the bargain.
Now the joke becomes reality and they hear that they are actually hired
as servants for a whole year.
Notwithstanding Lord Tristan's protestations, the ladies are carried
off by their masters, who know them under the names of Martha and Julia.
In the second act we find the ladies in the company of the tenants, who
set them instantly to work. Of course they are totally ignorant
of household-work, and as their wheels will not go round, Plumkett
shows them how to spin. In his rough but kind way he always commands
and turns to Nancy, with whom he falls in love, but Lionel only asks
softly when he wishes anything done. He has lost his heart to Lady
Harriet and declares his love to her. Though she is pleased by his
gentle behaviour, she is by no means willing to accept a country-squire
and wounds him by her mockery. Meanwhile Plumkett has sought Nancy for
the same purpose, but she hides herself and at last the girls are sent
to bed very anxious and perplexed at the turn their adventure has
taken. But Lord Tristan comes to their rescue in a coach and they take
flight, vainly pursued by the tenants.--Plumkett swears to catch and
punish them, but Lionel sinks into deep melancholy, from which nothing
can arouse him.
In the third act we meet them at a Court-hunt, where they recognize
their hired servants in two of the lady-hunters. They assert their
right, but the Ladies disown them haughtily, and when Lionel, whose
reason almost gives way under the burden of grief and shame, which
overwhelms him at thinking himself deceived by Martha, tells the whole
story to the astonished Court, the Ladies pronounce him insane and Lord
Tristan sends him to prison for his insolence, notwithstanding Lady
Harriet and Nancy's prayer for his pardon.
Lionel gives a ring to Plumkett, asking him to show it to the
Queen, his dying father having told him that it would protect him from
In the fourth act Lady Harriet feels remorse for the sad consequences
of her haughtiness. She visits the prisoner to crave his pardon. She
tells him that she has herself carried his ring to the Queen and that
he has been recognized by it as Lord Derby's son, once banished from
Court, but whose innocence is now proved.
Then the proud Lady offers hand and heart to Lionel, but he rejects
her, believing himself duped. Lady Harriet, however who loves Lionel,
resolves to win him against his will. She disappears, and dressing
herself and Nancy in the former peasant's attire, she goes once more to
the Fair at Richmond, where Lionel is also brought by his friend
Plumkett. He sees his beloved Martha advance towards him, promising to
renounce all splendors and live only for him; then his melancholy
vanishes; and he weds her, his name and possessions being restored to
him, while Plumkett obtains the hand of pretty Nancy, alias Julia.