The time is
1930. The story begins in a small garrison town in the South of
France , on a Sunday afternoon in summer . As the curtain rises,
young men and girls are going to the cinema, among them a servant
girl, Kathrin and her friend Margot. There are also a number of
soldiers, including Francois, who is really a strolling minstrel by
profession, and doing his military service. He sings eloquently of
his love of singing- and of girls. Kathrin and Francois meet and fall
in love- but late that evening, after Kathrin confesses all to
Margot, her friend tells her she'll lose her job if her employer
finds out about her new romance. Margot urges Kathrin to write
Francois a letter saying she will never see him again. She does so ,
in one of Korngold's most poignant arias. Kathrin retires for the
night only to be awakened by knocking: it is Francois. He climbs
trough her window and confesses his true profession- as a singer.
love duet follows and the two spend the night together. Some weeks
later, Francois is posted to Algiers with his regiment. Kathrin now
pregnant, has been sacked by her employer. As the soldiers and
Francois march away singing triumphant marching song, she kneels
before a statue of the Virgin Mary to pray for the future of her
lover - and their child .
The second act
takes place some months later. It is now Winter and snow is falling.
At a country inn on the Swiss - French border, the innkeeper is
arguing with a vagabond who is trying to sell her a silk dress.
Outside Kathrin comes walking along the country road. She is
distressed and on her way to find Francois. At the inn, Kathrin meets
Malignac, an unscrupulous and lascivious nightclub owner from
Marseilles, who, giving her a forget passport, promises to take her
there, supposedly to find Francois. But Malignac has other plans.!
scene is set in Malignac's club - Chez Chou - Chou. By a strange
co-incidence Francois has been employed at the club as a singer and
in much desired by Cou-Chou the leading chanteuse, who is trying to
teach him how to sing in a more lively way for the customers. She
attempts to seduce him in a deliciously evocative cabaret song,
accompanied by an on-stage jazz band. Malignac arrives and, waiting
for Kathrin alone in his private salon, he declares his unbridled
passion and love for her. But he is interrupted by his lover Monique
and a heated argument ensues .
Malignac an ultimatum - she want to become his wife or else! They
struggle - and he throws her on the floor. As he leaves, she shouts
him that he will pay for his insult with his life. Malignac invites
Kathrin in to his salon and attempts to kiss her. Francois walks in
on Malignac just as he holds Kathrin in his arms and threatens to
shoot him. But his taken away Malignac's henchmen. Malignac then
attempts to force himself on Kathrin but is shot dead by Monique who
has been hiding behind a curtain. She uses Francois pistol. Kathrin
assumes Francois has committed murder to save her, while Francois
believes it to be Kathrin's deed - and protesting his
"guilt", he goes to jail, thinking hi is saving his
sweetheart. Kathrin left alone, sings eloquently of her despair - and
then her hope for her child .
have passed since the events in Marseilles. Kathrin now manages a
small inn in the Swiss mountains, with her little son (who is also
named Francois). It is supper time and church bells are ringing.
Kathrin still waits hopefully for Francois but is being pursued by a
young tailor. After the supper, she goes to bring Lisl, the cow, home
from the meadow, while her little boy waits her outside. A stranger
comes down the path - it is Francois. He sings a beautiful and
nostalgic song - the song of the wanderer. The tailor comes back. He
wishes he could sing, so that he might serenade Kathrin. Hearing
Francois with his lute, he asks him to sing a song about a sailor (to
which he can then mime), to impress Kathrin. She returns as the
serenade ends. Francois sees her and reveals himself. But believing
he is too late and that she is Tailor's bride to be, he turns away to
leave. Kathrin hurried explains that she is not involved with the
Tailor and reveals her son to be Francois' own. After a blissful
duet, all misunderstandings are resolved and the two pledge their
undying love for each other as the opera ends is elegiac mood .
Brendan G. Carroll)