The Beggar Student
An operetta in 3 acts by F. Zell and Richard Genée based on Fernando by Victorien Sardou and The Lady of Lyons by Edward Bulwwr-Lytton. Music by Carl Millöcker. English Adaptation by Christopher Hassall and Ronald Hanmer
Produced at the Theater an der Wein, Vienna - 6 December, 1882
Thalia Theatre, New York - 19 October, 1883
Casino Theatre, New york as The Beggar Student in a version by Emil Schwab - 29 October, 1883
Alhambra Theatre, London in a 4-act version by W. Beatty-Kingston - 12 April, 1884
Krakow, 1704. Poland is under the rule of the unpopular Saxon king, August II. Any number of members of the Resistance movement are in prison, but Duke Adam, the leader of the rebels, is still at large.
The opening is the courtyard of the prison in Krakow. Holding sway in a dismal office is the jailer Enterich, a somewhat stupid, although wily Saxon who, although not malicious, nonetheless knows how to use his position to his best advantage.
Filled with longing for their husbands, the wives of the prisoners press into the office. Enterich cannot refuse their request and allows them to see the men – but not without first thinking of himself and kee[ing the best of their presents for himself. The prisoners have barely been let out of their cells when a demonstration against the accursed Saxon rule begins. Tempers rise still more when two Saxon officers, Major von Wangenheim and Lieutenant von Schweinitz, appear. Enterich quickly puts the prisoners back into their cells. However, the two officers are not at all i interested in the angry people, but simply in the latest society gossip.
They openly express malicious glee over the fact that their colonel, Ollendorf, was snubbed by the young Polish woman Laura and that she, moreover, gave him a powerful slap in the face with her fan.
We now meet the sad hero of our story. This is an entirely new situation in which he finds himself. Because it is unjust he hatches a plan of revenge. His scheme is to outfit a young prisoner with clothes and money. The man then, in the role of the wealthy Prince Wybicki, is supposed to turn the head of the lovely Countess Laura. It should not be too difficult a task since Countess Palmatica,
Laura's mother, must urgently stave off bankruptcy from her door by finding a rich son-in-law.There are plenty of enterprising young men in the prison. Enterich is able to present two suitable candidates right away: the students Symon and Jan. The Saxons feel so confident that they not only release the relatively harmless beggar student Symon but also Jan (who had been arrested as a political agitator) because a Prince Wybicki, in accordance with his rank, would be entitled to have a secretary. Everyone sets off for the Spring Fair. Ollendorf's plan of revenge against beautiful Laura begins to take its course.
We now move to a change of scene - the Spring Fair held on the festively decorated Ring Square in Krakow. A motley crowd in cheerful mood is celebrating the opening of the fair. Countess Palmatica, of course, is also present, together with her two daughters, Laura and Bronislava.
The three women's characters are obvious from the outset: Palmatica is arrogant and high-flown, Bronislava quite natural, fond of sensual pleasures, especially of eating, and then there is Laura to whom no man seems good enough because she is too proud and lofty. When, however, word comes about the wealthy Prince Wybicki and his plans to marry in Krakow, Mother Palmatica and her daughter Laura, in particular, can barely conceal their hopes and curiosity.
Symon – now completely a nobleman – enters as Prince Wybicki, gallantly and valiantly. The ladies fall for him on the spot. It is with amusement and malicious pleasure that Colonel Ollendorf, Major von Wangenheim and Lieutenant von Schweinitz observe how the proud countesses promptly take the bait. Symon sings a song in praise of the beautiful Polish women.
Palmatica is delighted by the Prince who, in turn, pays court to her daughter Laura. Bronislava, on the other hand, is more attracted to the smart secretary. When Symon proposes to Laura, she is only too willing to marry the wealthy prince.
Everyone is pleased by the rapid and happy course of things, even if for quite differing reasons. Magnanimously, Symon invites all of the Fair visitors – with Ollendorf's money - to the forthcoming nuptials.
The act opens set in a sumptuously appointed salon in the palace of Countess Palmatica Novalska. Palmatica gives her daughter sound advice for her approaching marriage with Prince Wybicki. It is all unnecessary since Laura already knows exactly how to "break in" a husband. Whilst Laura intends to train her future spouse, her younger sister, Bronislava, is just simply and uncomplicatedly in love with the Prince's secretary.
With a kiss their bond is "consecrated for all time". Symon, however, has serious problems. What until now had been only in fun has suddenly become the real thing for him, for he has fallen in love with Laura. So he seeks advice from Jan, but he, in turn, has other things on his mind. Jan is not a student at all. He is Count Opalinski, the captain who helped Duke Adam in preparing for the Polish uprising. He ardently tries to rouse enthusiasm in Symon for the liberation of their country, but the Student Beggar has little interest in political goings-on, and at the moment only cute Laura occupies his thoughts.
Shy and embarrassed, he attempts to confess his true origin through all kinds of allusions. Yet the real truth never passes his lips. In his inner conflict he picks up a pen to write her everything.
At this point things begin to happen in rapid succession. Ollendorf, cursing, appears with his officers. Countess Palmatica comes for Prince Wybicki to take him into the banquet hall to meet the nobility gathered there. Before he rushes into the hall, Symon gives Palmatica his letter for Laura. The Saxon officers, who know from Symon what is in the letter, persuade the old Countess not to pass it on to Laura until the next morning. The letter supposedly concerns only something about the dowry, in other words, something material that could only spoil the poetic atmosphere of the fête. The Countess is promptly taken in by the story. The bridal chorus is heard in the background, and, amidst shouts of joy from all sides, the bridal couple proceeds to the church.
In the meantime Ollendorf has learned who the political agitator Jan really is and hits upon the idea that Jan could well deliver Duke Adam into his hands! He tries every tactic he can to persuade Jan to do so. When he finally offers Jan the sum of 200,000 florins, Jan accepts. Jan, or more correctly, Captain Opalinski, needs precisely this amount to be able to bribe the Italian commandant of the citadel, for, if the latter no longer offers resistance, the citadel can be stormed and all of Krakow taken.
Ollendorf feels confident of success for his plan. With malicious glee, he now expects to enjoy his revenge on Laura right at the wedding feast that is to follow.
To the festive ringing of bells, the newly married couple comes out of the church. Rousing festivities begin, and Ollendorf, encouraged by the others, breaks into a drinking song followed by a mazurka danced by the assembled company.
But fate runs its course. As intended by Ollendorf, the jailer Enterich and a group of scruffy prisoners appear and crow: "Symon is the Beggar Student, the vagabond that everyone knows … " The wedding guests are appalled. Ollendorf, however, is triumphant, he has been avenged for the Laura's blow with the fan.
In the background the indignant wedding guests are heard leaving Countess Novalska's palace, grumbling and swearing. Only Bronislava fails to take the matter seriously. She is simply a bit annoyed that the feast has come to such an abrupt end and that she has not yet even eaten.
Jan zealously pursues his revolutionary plans. Symon, who is now completely broken, is just the right man for his plans, for he needs a fall guy to convince Ollendorf he is Duke Adam in order to receive the 200,000 florins. Nothing matters to poor Symon anymore anyway, so he sticks the wallet containing the Duke's papers into his pocket and proceeds into a new adventure.
Ollendorf demands that Jan deliver the Duke to him. Jan cleverly understands how to strengthen Ollendorf in his assumption that Symon is in reality the Duke. The angry wedding guests, with Palmatica at the head, make Symon the target of their attacks: swindler, imposter, beggar student. Excitement, turmoil!
Now Ollendorf thinks he can play his second trump card. Pointing to Symon, he declares loudly and clearly, "Duke Adam Kasimir is the prisoner standing here." Suddenly the rejected son-in-law is again a duke, and, moreover, one of their own! Amid the general confusion Laura appears. The proud countess has become a loving wife who is willing to share every plight that befalls her Symon. Now Symon can laugh in the face of all dangers.
Just as the Saxon colonel Ollendorf is about to lead the alleged Polish duke to the citadel, shouting and cries of "vivat" are heard in the background, coming from the citadel. Saxon officers rush in and exclaim that the citadel has fallen into the hands of the Poles and that Duke Adam has led the rebels. "But Duke Adam is still standing here," says the astonished Ollendorf to himself. Yet his eyes have been opened and he realises that, in the end, he is the outwitted blockhead.
The couples in love – Symon and Laura, Jan and Bronislava – embrace,
happy. Poland is free!
4 female, 10 male
- Palmatica, Countess Nowalska
- Oberst Ollendorf
- Von Wangenheim
- Von Schweinitz
- Symon Rymanowicz
flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, percussion, harp, strings
Vocal Score and Libretto on hire only