“The Golden Cross,” an opera in two acts with music by Ignaz Brüll and text by H. S. Mosenthal, after the French comedy ” La Croix d’Or,” by Brazier and Melville, was first produced in Berlin, Dec. 22, 1875.
Gontran de L’Ancre, a young French nobleman. Nicholas Pariset, owner of the mill and the inn. Christina, his sister. Theresa, his cousin and betrothed. Bombardon, a sergeant. Soldiers, peasants, village youths and maidens.
The story is laid in the little village of Melun, situated not far from Paris. It begins in 1812, at the time when Napoleon is preparing to lead his armies into Russia. Nicholas the innkeeper, or Colas as his friends call him, is about to be married to his pretty cousin Theresa. All arrangements have been made; the bride’s friends have come to present the customary bouquets of rosemary and Christina has smothered a natural sisterly jealousy, roused by the thought of giving her brother to another woman. For, left orphans at an early age, and growing up in each other’s care, they have meant much to each other and Christina has dismissed all lovers, preferring to stay with Colas. Even now she swears, quite as other maidens have done, that her heart shall ever be proof against the little god of the bow and arrows. When everything is looking quite auspicious for the lovers, Bombardon, the recruiting officer, appears in the village and announces that a conscription is to be made among the young men available for military service. Colas’ about-to-be-acquired responsibility as a husband unfortunately does not exempt him and the little circle is in despair.
Soon after Christina has made her ill-advised remarks about single blessedness, Bombardon and his military friend, Gontran de L’Ancre, approach the inn, singing of the wine with which they hope soon to refresh themselves. This leading to the kindred subject, woman, Gontran voices his conviction that any one who puts his trust in them will rue it. Theresa, left alone at the inn, finds an opportunity to rehearse her future role as landlady. The gallant Bombardon is openly enchanted by her bright eyes. Warmed by the wine she brings them, Gontran tells of his betrayal by a woman, who had sworn to be faithful to him, thus explaining his cynical attitude toward the sex. His first glimpse of Christina stirs him remarkably but he reminds himself to be on his guard.
Meantime, Christina is enduring agonies of mind, induced by visions of her dear brother Colas buried under the snow and ice of Russia. She hopes to contrive a way to save him from danger and the only possible solution seems to be a substitute, an alternative which money cannot buy. She remembers many rejected suitors who have given expression to their unbounded friendship and, meeting a number upon whom the conscription has not fallen, she promises to marry whomever will take her brother’s place in the ranks and bring back to her, at the end of his service, the cross of gold which hangs on a ribbon about her neck. But the prize is not sufficient to tempt them into real danger and no one comes forward to claim the pledge. Colas is about to march away, perforce, when Bombardon announces that a substitute has offered himself and Christina promises solemnly to be true to the unknown.
A period of three years elapses before the second act. The curtain rises again on the mill and inn of Colas. A number of things have happened in this time, during all of which Christina has been true to her vow. Colas, upon a later conscription, has been forced to go to war. and has barely escaped with his life. His captain has found him wounded and has been carrying him off the field, when he himself is hit by a bullet, Colas being by this time able to return the compliment by saving him. This same young captain has been taken to the inn and nursed to convalescence by Christina, and, as frequently happens, patient and nurse have lost their hearts to each other. Nevertheless, believing it to be her duty to remain faithful to the possessor of the golden cross, Christina daily watches for his return. At last the captain declares his love for her and assures her that she may have no hesitation in accepting him, as it was he who was her brother’s substitute. He explains that he has delayed his avowal, hoping to win her heart as well as her hand. The delighted Christina asks to see the pledge, but Gontran tells her that once when he thought himself fatally wounded he entrusted it to a comrade to bring back to her. Christina fancies it to be a ruse instigated by Colas and Theresa to make her accept the happiness within her reach and she sends the captain away hurt by her suspicions.
At this crisis, there comes down the hill by the inn as jauntily as a man may who has a wooden leg, a person whom no one recognizes as the one-time fine recruiting officer. His uniform is worn and ragged, his face is scarred and weather-beaten, his leg is gone at the knee, but the Cross of the Legion of Honor gleams brightly upon his breast. ” Yes, children, thus it is that the Grand Army returns to France,” he says gaily, but nevertheless he wipes a furtive tear from his eye. He talks jokingly with Colas and his wife and asks for Christina. It is he who has the golden cross and he reminds her of her promise. Her heart sinks but she resolves to keep her word and places her hand in his.
Then Bombardon hears Gontran’s familiar but disconsolate voice and fairly falls upon him in his joy. In fact, he is a great deal happier to find an old friend than to win a bride. The matter is cleared to Christina’s satisfaction and Bombardon gaily takes the couple, one on each arm, and followed by the rest sings joyously:
Rataplan! Tarara! Now peace reigns in the land. Capitulate the Grand Armée In hymen’s sacred band.
“The Golden Cross” which is very popular in Germany and is an excellent example of the German comic opera, or singspiel, has among its most interesting numbers Christina’s romanza, ” Die Eltern starben frühe” (” My parents died long years ago”); a duet for Theresa and Christina, “Man soll’s nicht verschworen” (” One never should declare “) ; a duet for Bombardon and Gontran, “Halt, Front, Gewehr bei Fuss” (“Halt! Front ! Attention give! “) ; Gontran’s song, ” Jugendgluck, Jugendtraum ” (” Joy of youth, Dream of Youth “) ; the delightfully stirring rataplan song of Bombardon; the duet of Theresa and Nicholas , ” Schau, schau, mein Männchen ” (” See, see, my hubby “) ; Gontran’s romanza, ” Nein, nein ich will ihr Herz nicht swingen” (” No, no, not force can make her love me”); the supper-table quartet; the love duet for Christina and Gontran, “Darf ich’s glauben” (” Dare I think then”) and Bombardon’s song, “Wie anders war es” (” How different then”).