“The Beggar Student,” a comic opera in three acts with music by Carl Millöcker and text by Zell and Genée, was first produced in Vienna in 1882.
The Countess Palmatica. Laura and Bronislava, her daughters. Symon Symonovicz, the Beggar Student. Janitsky, a Polish Noble. General Ollendorf, Governor of Cracow. Lieutenant Poppenberg, Major Holzhoff, Lieutenant Walgenheim, Saxon officers. Lieutenant Schweinitz, Captain Henrici, Ensign Richtofen, Bogumil, cousins of Palmatica. Eva, his wife, Burgomaster. Enterich, a jailor. Piffke, Puffke, his assistants. Sitzka, an innkeeper. Onouphrie, a servant. Alexis, a prisoner.
The action of the opera is laid in the city of Cracow in Poland in 1704. The Polish monarch, Stanislaus, has a little while before been overcome by Augustus the Strong, of Saxony, whose soldiers have charge of a military prison now filled with the captured Poles. General Ollendorf, the military governor, is in love with Laura, daughter of the Polish Countess, Palmatica, and has been spurned in his advances. He has intercepted a letter written by that haughty and patriotic lady, in which she declares that only a Pole and a nobleman can be her son-in-law. The General devises an appropriate revenge. He takes from prison Symon Symonovicz, a Polish vagabond student of fine presence, who is serving a term for poaching and tells him that if he will impersonate a wealthy nobleman and woo and marry the Countess Laura, he may have his liberty. To this the adventurous youth agrees and a fellow prisoner, Janitsky, who is held for political reasons is released to be the new nobleman’s private secretary. The plot is as successful as can be. The golden bait is eagerly seized by the ladies who far too long for their own satisfaction have existed in genteel poverty, and the Prince and Laura are betrothed amid general rejoicing. Sister Bronislava and Janitsky are also busied meantime in falling in love.
In the second act, which takes place in the grand salon of the palace of the Countess, the two young people discover that it is a very real sentiment which enthralls them. The money supplied by the General to keep up the impression of opulence is exhausted, and Symon resolves to tell Laura at once of the deception practised upon her. He does not come to this decision without a fierce struggle with temptation, for he is certain that the disclosure will prevent the marriage which was to have taken place that very day. He has not the courage personally to enlighten her of his perfidy and so writes a letter instead, which he intrusts to her mother with instructions that it must be delivered before the ceremony is performed. The General, who suspects that his plans are about to be frustrated, tells the Countess that the letter is of a business nature and, in the hurry, it goes unread. When the ceremony is over, the General in high glee discloses the real station of the bridegroom in the presence of the assembled guests and the Beggar Student is driven from the palace.
In the third act, Symon, insulted and degraded, is meditating self-destruction, when his friend Janitsky reveals the fact that he is a Polish officer and is one of a party of patriots who are planning to capture the citadel and to reinstate King Stanislaus. The Governor-General has discovered that Janitsky knows the secret hiding-place of the Polish grand duke and so bribes him with 200,000 thalers to betray the duke to the Austrians. Janitsky asks Symon to personate the grand duke until the money for his capture can be paid for the surrender of the citadel. The plot succeeds with Symon’s help. In return, he is knighted by King Stanislaus and accepted by his wife and mother-in-law.
Prominent tuneful numbers in the score are the chorus of sopranos, ” Our husbands, alas, they’ve locked up in jail; ” Ollendorf’s song, “And they say that toward ladies; ” the chorus at the springtide fair at Cracow: Symon’s song, “‘Twas thus it came to me; ” Palmatica’s advice, ” If joy in married life you’d find; ” the duet of Symon and Laura, ” I’ll put the case ; ” Ollendorf’s humorous pieces,
One day I was perambulating, Along the Ganges meditating,
and his topical song, ” There in a chamber Polish ; ” ” The Prince a beggar’s said to be,” sung by Bronislava; the song of the philosophical Symon, ” I’m penniless and outlawed, too,” and the happy concluding chorus,,
The land is free, United we.