“The Trumpeter of Säkkingen,” an opera in three acts and a prologue, with music by Victor E. Nessler and text based on J. Victor von Scheffel poem, with several original songs added by the librettist, Rudolf Bunge, was produced at the Stadt Theatre, Leipzig, May 4, 1884.
Werner Kirchoffer, a law student, afterward a trumpeter. Conradin, army trumpeter and recruiting officer. The Baron of Schönau. Maria, his daughter. The Count of Wildenstein. His divorced wife, the Baron’s sister-in-law. Damian, the Count’s son by his second marriage. Steward of the Electress’ household. The Rector of Heidelberg University. Students, soldiers, citizens, peasants, school children, knights, members of the May ballet and many others.
The time of the opera is during the latter part of the Thirty Years’ War and just after its conclusion. The prologue is played in the courtyard of Heidelberg at night, where the soldiers and students are lustily singing one of the many panegyrics dedicated to that famous collegiate town.
Old Heidelberg victorious In honors rich and rare, No other town so glorious On Rhine, or Neckar fair. Thou town of jolly fellows, Of wisdom ripe and wine, Bright roll thy merry billows, Blue eyes upon them shine.
Werner, a law student, and chief among the ” jolly fellows ” takes up the strain alone, followed by Conradin, an old trumpeter and a recruiting officer. A college steward interrupts the music and expostulates with the noisy students for disturbing the slumbers of the Electress. The spirit of mischief prompts them to direct their tunefulness to the lady in a serenade. Werner takes the trumpet from Conradin’s hands and the soldiers and students sing in chorus with trumpet interludes. So skilfully is the latter done, that the recruiting officer, declaring that such good material should not be wasted on the desert air of a college, tries to persuade Werner to enlist but the youth declines to be caught by a bit of flattery.
The steward. who has made repeated demands for a cessation of the noise, engages the aid of the Rector Magnificus, with the result that all the students are expelled. The dashing Werner, not half sorry to be ” dispossessed of debts and law books,” enlists in the army, with which incident the prelude closes.
In the first act, for which we are taken to Säkkingen, the peasants are celebrating the fête of Saint Fridolin. Werner appears just in time to protect the Countess and her niece from the rudeness of certain mutinous peasants. Love at first sight ensues between the handsome trumpeter and the lovely Maria. The Countess, too, is impressed with the bearing of the young man, but her warmth is cooled when she learns that he was a foundling brought up by gypsies and afterwards adopted by a college professor. This vividly recalls to her the sad fact that her own son, who would be about Werner’s age, was kidnaped in childhood by a roving tribe.
While Conradin and Werner escort the ladies to the church where the fête-day ceremonies are in progress, the scene changes to the apartment of the Baron of Schönau, who, owing to a bad attack of gout, is a prisoner at home. He is diverted by a letter from Count Wildenstein, the divorced husband of his sister, the Countess, who, his second wife having recently died, hopes to effect a reconciliation with the first one, from whom he has been separated by unprincipled persons. He also suggests a union between Maria and Damian, a son by the second marriage. The Baron is delighted, for the match is desirable from the viewpoint of both family and wealth.
The Countess and Maria return to relate their adventure. The Baron regrets the death of his faithful old trumpeter, whose vigilance had afforded such protection to the lonely, badly guarded castle. The trumpet of Werner is heard in the distance. At the enthusiastic recommendation of Maria he is sent for and speedily wins the approval of the Baron, who engages his services.
In the second act, Werner gives Maria a music lesson under the blossoming chestnut-trees, or rather he forgets his business and employs the time in making love to his pupil. The happy pair are discovered by the watchful Countess, who indignantly tells her brother, whereupon that wrathful gentleman summarily dismisses Werner from the castle. Meantime, the Count of Wildenstein arrives with the foolish Damian and the parents talk of an immediate wedding. Maria will have nothing to do with her new suitor and breaks down completely when Werner departs.
The dénouement is brought about speedily in the third act. The rebellious peasants lay siege to the castle. The trembling Damian is sent out ” to be a hero and to disperse them. Soon knocking is heard at the gate and the shrieking Damian implores admittance. He whimpers that the common herd do not even know the rules of fighting ; they have crushed his helmet and torn his jacket. It remains for Werner and the soldiers to drive the peasants back. He is brought in with his arm wounded. While it is being dressed, there is discovered a mark upon it which proves that he is the lost son of the Count and Countess of Wildenstein. The Baron tells Maria that she has won and that he has no further desire to possess the cowardly Damian for a son-in-law. As the citizens raise their voices in praise of the brave young soldier, we are left to draw our own conclusions as to whether the restoration of the true heir of Wildenstein effected a reconciliation between his father and mother. From the happy tone of the final chorus, one is led to conclude that everything turned out satisfactorily.
In the prelude are heard the student and soldier choruses; among them being the love song, “A vassal e’er faithful now lies at your feet.” In the first act occur the peasant dances and choruses celebrating the fête; the fuming of the Baron at his gout; Maria’s song in praise of the trumpeter, ” His gait is proud and stately.” In the second act are the love duet of Werner and Maria, ” Shinest not warmer? sunlight golden ;” Young Werner’s farewell song, ” God shield thee, love,” the most popular number in the score. The third act contains the battle song sung by the soldiers before marching against the peasants and Conradin’s song with a chorus ” Love and merry trumpet-blowing.” All these charming numbers go to make up a light opera which placed Nessler among the most admired of the lesser composers of Germany and secured for the work itself performance and enduring popularity in every country where the German language and German sentiment are understood and appreciated.