Music by Franz Lehár: Book & Lyrics by Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner. English version by Adrian Ross and Harry S. Pepper
Metropol-Theater, Berlin - 4 October 1928
Palace Theatre, London 9 September, 1930
Imperial Theatre, New York - 4 February, 1937
Adaptation by Bernard Dunn, Harry S. Pepper and Ronald Hanmer for amateur performance.
This adaptation of the magical operetta of Lehár has been performed previously only professionally. Now the book has been remodelled but the original English lyrics are retained. it tells the true story of the younger days of Goethe, Germany's most famous poet, and his tragic love for Frederica, daughter of the Vicar of Sesenheim. Easily staged with only two sets, the operetta's score is one of Lehár's loveliest and includes the well-known "Oh Maiden, My Maiden".
(Lehar's final version)
ACT 1 - Tthe village of Sesenheim in Alsace-Lorraine, on Whit Sunday, 1771
The church rector, Johann Jakob Brion, and his wife emerge from the church and head towards the rectory, where they sit down in a garden shade for some morning coffee. They call their two daughters to join them, but Friederike, the younger, is far too engrossed in reading a book by her sweetheart, Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Goethe is due to complete his medical studies shortly, and Salomea, the elder daughter, speculates that a marriage between him and Friederike might soon follow.
Friederike finally comes out of the house full of the joys of the beautiful spring day and, as she sits down with her parents, a postman arrives with a package for her. It is from Goethe, and it contains a binding painted with roses, inside which is a poem full of romantic sentiments, which Friederike reads rapturously.
Salomea excitedly brings news of the arrival of some students from Strasbourg University who march in to a rousing students' song. Salomea, the livelier of the two sisters, joins in their merriment and soon has them kneeling before her. Salomea's accepted admirer, Friedrich Weyland, is amongst the group, but she seems more interested in the whereabouts of another student, Jakob Lenz. It seems that he is merely delayed, looking for a painted binding after the manner of the one sent to Friederike by Goethe.
Salomea runs off with the students to meet Lenz, just as Goethe arrives. He has a bouquet in his hand, and he stands gazing up at the rectory wherin lives the girl he loves. When Friederike sees him, she rushes from the house to meet him. He gives her the bunch of flowers and they excitedly exchange expressions of love.
Lenz arrives, carrying a basket and several large parcels and leading a lamb by a rope tied around his waist. He failed to find a painted binding for Salomea and missed the students as he made a detour to pick up some flowers. While Friederike helps him take the gifts into the house, Goethe sits outside, writing in his notebook a new lyric about a boy who plucked a meadow rose. The idyll must soon be over, for Goethe has work to do for his medical studies in Strasbourg, but Friederike is planning to visit her lawyer uncle Schöll there, and they will be able to meet.
The students return and dancing begins on the lawn. Goethe finds himself surrounded by a crowd of girls, and Lenz seizes the opportunity to warn Friederike of the dangers of loving Goethe too much. He is known to flit from girl to girl like a butterfly from one bud to another. Friederike thanks him for his concern, but declares that all she knows is that she loves him.
ACT 2 - Madame Schöll's home in Strasbourg, on 6 August, 1771
A small company of young people is dancing a minuet. Friederike and Salomea are there, along with Goethe and his fellow students. Salomea is now engaged to Weyland, but when the ever-sociable Lenz finds himself alone with her, he does his best to persuade her that he would gladly marry his 'sweet Alsace child'. Goethe and Friederike are anxious to have some time together, but the poet finds himself surrounded by girls clamouring for him to write a verse in each of their albums.
At last Friederike and Goethe find themselves alone and Goethe reassures her that, for all the attention he gets from the other young ladies, it is to her that his heart is truly given. They are interrupted by Weyland asking for a word with Goethe. As Friederike's future brother-in-law, he feels it is his place to tell Goethe not to trifle with her affections. He points out that Goethe is in no financial position to support a wife and Goethe responds by pulling out of his pocket a letter offering him a post as poet at the Court of Weimar. He could scarcely want more than such an appointment, together with the love of a girl such as Friederike.
Captain Knebel arrives from Weimar to accompany Goethe to his new position at Court and, in the course of the conversation between the two, it comes out that Goethe's predecessor at court had lost his post because the pressures of marriage and a family had restricted his creativity. The Duke of Weimar is determined this time to have a bachelor in the post. Goethe at once tells him that he is no longer interested, but Knebel takes him into the garden to talk it over. Friederike asks Weyland what is happening and is told that she will be unable to accompany her lover to Weimar. If she were to stand in his way, it would mean misery for both of them. Brokenhearted, she reflects on the way her feelings of love were awoken by his kisses, only to be dashed by this blow.
Lenz comes up and asks Friederike to dance, but she tells him she is waiting for Goethe and will dance with him later. Goethe comes to tell Friederike that he has turned down the position at Weimar, but in her heart she knows that she cannot allow him to make such a sacrifice and, when Lenz comes by, she pointedly takes up his earlier offer of a dance. Goethe is shocked by her seeming indifference to him and he tells Knebel that he will, after all, accept the Weimar appointment. He bids Friederike a cold farewell and leaves her feeling like the meadow rose plucked by the boy in Goethe's lyric.
ACT 3 - Sesenheim, 25 September 1779
Eight years have passed since Friederike's friendship with Goethe was so abruptly ended, and Salomea is married to Weyland, but Friederike has remained single despite the attentions of the faithful Lenz. As Friederike comes out of the house, some of the village girls call to her to dance with them in the meadow but Friederike answers lifelessly, warning the girls against following the urging of one's heart.
Lenz comes to try to cheer her, but she brushes him aside, telling him that nobody who has loved Goethe can love anyone else. Then Salomea enters, announcing that her husband's behaviour has become intolerable and that she is leaving him. Lenz, as usual, is ready to offer himself as a substitute, and together he and Salomea lightheartedly dance a country dance. Once again, however, Lenz's attentions go for nothing, since Weyland himself appears and quickly make things up with his wife.
Then Goethe returns. The poet has not seen Friederike in the intervening eight years, but now he is passing through Sesenheim on his way to Switzerland with the Grand Duke Karl-August. He tells the Duke that this was the place where he spent the happiest hours of his life. Here his youth passed and a heart as pure as gold was his. The rector, his wife and Friederike come from the house to meet him. This is the moment for which Friederike has waited eight years and she is overjoyed to see him again. Now Goethe finally realises the truth and the extent of the sacrifice that Friederike made for him all those years ago, but his duties mean that he must move on once again—this time for good. At least, through his writings, Goethe now belongs to the whole world, and thus also to Friederike.
Adapted from Gänzl's Book of the Musical Theatre
Original German Version
8 female, 10 male
Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar
Johann Jakob Brion, rector of Sesenheim
Magdalena, his wife
Solomea, Friederike, their daughters
Johann Wolfgang Goethe, a law student
Friedrich Leoppold Weyland, a theological student
Franz Lerse, Georg Engelbach, law students
Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling, John Meyer, medical students
Captain Karl Ludwig von Knebel, tutor to the princes of the Court of Weimar
Hortense, her daughter
Liselotte, her daughter
Dorothée, Ännchen, Babette, her friends
Country folk, boys and girls, gentlemen and ladies of society, Madame Schöll's servants.
flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, percussion, harp, strings