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The Libretto of 'The Bohemian Girl'
An Opera by Michael William Balfe


The libretto of "The Bohemian Girl" ("immortal balderdash," it has been called) came from the pen of Alfred Bunn, the manager of Drury Lane Theatre, whom Malibran facetiously dubbed "Good Friday" because he was "a hot, cross Bunn." Bunn had already collaborated with Balfe in "The Maid of Artois." He derived his idea of the libretto of "The Bohemian Girl" from a ballet in three Acts called "The Gipsy," written by Saint Georges, and produced at the Grand Opera, Paris, in 1839. Saint Georges had taken his story from the "Novelas Exemplares" of Cervantes, the author of "Don Quixote" (the same work which has furnished Weber with his "Prediosa"). But Bunn did not know this until some of the friendly pressmen told him of it after the first performance.

There was a question about what the opera should be called. Bunn himself thought of "The Gipsy"; but that, it was found, had been the title of a discredited transpontine drama, and so was given up. Then he thought of "Thaddeus of Warsaw"; but as he had taken the name of his Polish hero from Miss Porter’s then popular novel, the idea of the opera being mistaken for an adaptation of the novel led him to abandon that too. "La Bohemienne" was next proposed. But why give an English opera a French name? objected certain advisers. Bunn, taking the hint, decided for "The Bohemian," but immediately remembered that this would as readily indicate a creature of the male sex as his girlish Arline. Finally, "The Bohemian Girl" was decided upon.

Act 1. -- The scene of the opera is laid in Austria. When the curtain rises we see the Castle and grounds of Count Arnheim, the Governor of Presburg, who is entertaining a hunting-party. Presently the Count himself enters, accompanied by his six-year-old daughter Arline, and his nephew Florestein. Afterwards a Polish exile and fugitive, Thaddeus, rushes in, seeking refuge from the Austrian military. "’Tis sad to leave your Fatherland," he sings. Next there enters a band of passing gypsies, with one Devilshoof for leader, singing a blithe Gipsy Chorus. Thaddeus tells his story to Devilshoof, and the latter induces the proscribed rebel to cast in his lot with the wanderers.

Meanwhile, Florestein and certain of the sportsmen dash excitedly across the Castle grounds, looking for Arline, who has been attacked by a stag. Thaddeus, seizing a rifle, hurries away after them, finds Arline, and frees her from danger by slaying the stag. The Count, overcome with gratitude for the safe return of his child, invites her deliverer and his companion, Devilshoof, to an approaching banquet at the Castle. The invitation is accepted, and at the banquet the company are startled by Thaddeus defiantly refusing to drink the Emperor’s health. He is about to be dealt with by the soldiers when Devilshoof intervenes on his behalf. Then the Gipsy Chief, for his daring, is himself arrested and confined to the chateau, while Thaddeus, at Arnheim’s earnest entreaty, is allowed to go free. The banquet is resumed, but is soon interrupted again by the escape of Devilshoof, who is seen by the terrified company bearing away in his arms the little Arline. With a stirring finale, the Act closes.





Act 2. -- Twelve years have now gone by, and Count Arnheim is still without tidings of the kidnapped Arline. Indeed, he has given up all hope of ever seeing her again. The Act opens in the gipsy camp in the outskirts of Presburg, where a great fair is about to be held. There, in the Queen’s tent, Arline is peacefully asleep, Thaddeus watching over her. A short chorus is sung, and the gypsies, with Devilshoof at their head, scamper away in search of booty. By-and-by they come upon Florestein, returning from a debauch, half-drunk. His jewelry is soon in the hands of the gypsies, including a certain diamond medallion which Devilshoof retains for himself. Meanwhile Arline, waking from her sleep, has been relating to Thaddeus a strange dream she has just had ("I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls"). Thaddeus thereupon reveals to her the meaning of the scar on her arm, and announces himself as her rescuer. She desires to know her history, but Thaddeus declines to reveal the secret lest it should blight her regard for him; for Thaddeus is in love with Arline. There are mutual confessions of attachment, and the Gipsy Queen (who is herself enamoured of Thaddeus) entering, she unites the pair according to the customs of the tribe, at the same time secretly vowing to be revenged against Arline.

Here we have a new scene -- a street in the town, with the great fair in progress. The gypsies soon arrive, Arline marching at their head, blithely singing ("Come with the Gipsy Bride"), to the accompaniment of the castanets. Her companions disappear down the street, and she, with Thaddeus, Devilshoof, and the Queen, get mixed up among the throng of merrymakers. They encounter Florestein, who attracted by Arline’s beauty, attempts to insult her. He is recognised by the Queen as the owner of the stolen medallion, which she now maliciously places on Arline’s neck, ostensibly as a reward for Arline’s courage in resenting Florestein’s overtures. Florestein thereupon has Arline arrested for the theft of his medallion and she is borne away to the Castle, to be tried by her own father.

We are transported to the Court-room. Count Arnheim, entering, is once more saddened by the sight of his long-lost Arline’s portrait, and his grief goes into that melancholy reverie, "The heart bowed down." Then Arline is brought in for her trial. As it proceeds, the Count’s attention is directed to the scar on her arm. He asks her how it came there. She tells the story as Thaddeus had recounted it. The mystery is revealed. Arnheim recognises his daughter, and the Act ends with that beautiful ensemble, "Praised be the will of Heaven."

Act 3. -- This Act opens in the drawing-room of Castle Arnheim. Arline is back in her home, but still she loves Thaddeus. Mainly through the cunning of Devilshoof, who accompanies him, Thaddeus contrives to have a meeting with her. He proclaims his passion afresh -- in the tender and immortal "When other lips and other hearts" -- and she avows that she will be faithful to him. At this point steps are heard approaching, and Thaddeus and Devilshoof get themselves into hiding. A distinguished company march in, and the long-lost Arline is presented to them.

A woman, closely veiled, shortly appears on the scene, and, being questioned as to her identity, tells that she is the Gipsy Queen. She shows where Thaddeus is concealed, and he is dragged forth and ordered to remove himself at once from the company. Arline protests that she loves him, and will go with him. She pleads with her father to relent. Thaddeus proclaims his noble descent, and in that rousing martial song, "When the fair land of Poland," vaunts his prowess in battle. Arnheim is by this induced to give his daughter to the noble exile. The Gipsy Queen, filled with wrath and despair, prompts one of her tribe to fire at Thaddeus as he is embracing Arline. Luckily, a timely movement on the part of Devilshoof saves him, and the Queen herself is killed instead.





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