“The Black Hussar,” a comic opera in three acts, the music by Carl Millöcker, was produced at Vienna in 1886.
Friedrich von Helbert, colonel of the Black Hussars, disguised as an army chaplain. Hans von Waldmann, adjutant of the Black Hussars, disguised as a student. Theophil Hackenback, Magistrate of Trautenfeld. Piffkow, his factotum, with numerous offices. Mefflin, a tragedian of the Meininger Company No. 14. Francois Thorillière, a captain of the French army. Rubke, a captain of the Prussian army. Wutki, Hetman of the Cossacks. Shadow, a pedler. Bruck, a scissors-grinder. Eiken, Selchow, a ratcatcher. Prittwitz, a bookseller. Putnam, quack doctor. Ro Minna, setta, Hackenback’s daughters. Barbara, an orphan, Hackenback’s housekeeper.
The scene is laid in and near the town of Trautenfeld, on the border of Germany and Russia. The time is 1812.
The piece opens at the Magistrate’s house, where a chorus of citizens are descanting on the disadvantages of living on the border at this time of Napoleonic activity, for they are continually involved in turmoil and the French and Cos-sacks pay them unwelcome attentions.
Hackenback, Magistrate of Trautenfeld, is a pompous fellow, who spends so much time congratulating himself on his might and wisdom that the weight of his office falls upon his factotum, Piffkow. The aforementioned consumes a large part of the first act enumerating his duties, which range from collecting the taxes to airing the poodles.
At this time news has been brought to camp by a chaplain with a ” Dragoon’s bold air ” (Colonel von Helbert of the Black Hussars who is in disguise) that two hundred Germans, four hundred Frenchmen, and a large number of Cossacks will soon be quartered on the town. Helbert is trying to foment an insurrection against the Napoleonic oppression and the French are busily hunting for him. Hackenback is a sad trimmer and his aim in life is to carry himself diplomatically between the French and the Russians, so when he takes down the description of the miscreant, Helbert slyly manages to make it the magistrate’s own, such complimentary terms as ” spindle legs,” ” vermilion red nose,” aggressive mole” and ” crazy old top-knot ” being included.
Upon being introduced to the Magistrate’s daughters, Minna and Rosetta, we find that their parent has another eccentricity, that of disguising them in the most frightful fashion, so that the men will not carry them off. They are compelled to paint their faces grotesquely, ” roam on crutches,” erect humps on their backs, and wear dresses that are ” simply wild and weird.” But rebellion is brewing in the domestic camp, especially since the arrival of the good-looking chaplain, whom they shrewdly suspect to be no chaplain at all. As soon as the girls rid themselves of their atrocities, Helbert falls in love with Minna, which is fortunate, since Rosetta and his adjutant, Hans von Waldmann, are already very fond of each other.
The second act opens in the market-place with an amusing gossiping chorus by the village wives. They succeed in arousing the curiosity of the men and then laugh at them for exhibiting this supposedly feminine trait. Piffkow arrives in the guise of a hero and relates an adventure, in which it appears that he has broken into a company of actors playing ” Julius Caesar,” has taken it all seriously, and has carried off the assassin, Brutus.
Hackenback, embarrassed by the arrival of both French and Russian troops, is reduced to the necessity of making use of the mongrel cry ” Napolexander.” In spite of his precaution, he is arrested on the evidence of the posted description and marched away to jail. Matters are simplified by the arrival of the Black Hussar regiment, which captures the French troops, just after they have captured the Russians. So all disguises are cast aside, and the remainder of the opera is devoted to love-making.