Volksoper in two acts by Jaromír Weinberger. Performed in Czech with German surtitles
Hej, hola! – Two soldiers are following the robber Babinský but once again the crafty rascal slips through their fingers. He encounters Dorotka who is waiting at her house for her newly wedded husband Švanda who is the best bagpiper for miles around. When Švanda arrives home, he invites the stranger to eat with them. Without revealing his identity, Babinský asks Švanda whether he is bored with his tedious life in this sleepy little place. He recounts the heroic deeds of the robber Babinský, who steals from the rich to give to the poor. In the neighbouring country, there is a beautiful queen whose heart has turned to ice. She is waiting for someone to release her, and Švanda would be the perfect man to do so … Head over heels Švanda decides to set out with Babinský and delight the queen with his music. Dorotka is left only with Babinský’s frayed cuff and a farewell. Without hesitating, she hurries after them.
Life at the ice palace is frozen in time. The queen and her entire court are under the spell of a magician. She has no pleasure in life. The shadows of the murdered are her only grim companions but Švanda revives her spirits with his bagpipe. Misery and longing fly away and the queen falls passionately in love with the musician, she even appoints him to become king: three hundred coaches are to be harnessed with black and white horses, shots are heard ringing out throughout the realm. A passionate kiss seals the royal promise. Dorotka, however, magically appears and denounces her unfaithful husband. Švanda confesses to his wife and deeply displeases the queen. Her happiness disappears, frost and eternal ice return. Taking revenge, she condemns Švanda and Dorotka to death.
Švanda is taken to the scaffold to be beheaded but Babinský, who has a hand in everything, helps when the worst comes to the worst and exchanges the menacing executioner’s axe at the last minute for a broom. Out of harm’s way, Dorotka reproaches Švanda bitterly but he denies having kissed the queen and goes straight to Hell. Dorotka is distraught and feels guilty. Babinský tries to comfort her and confesses his love for her. As proof of his love, he wants to fetch Švanda back for her from Hell but points out that temptations have turned Švanda into a different person. Only he, Babinský, as an eternal adventurer knows the delusions of this world and would give up any number of kingdoms for Dorotka’s love.
In Hell, the Devil is bored to death: no-one wants to play cards with him and the newcomer Švanda persistently refuses to play his bagpipes. Pleading, begging and crying have no effect. Švanda does not have to obey the Devil because he is not subject to the rules of Hell. Instead he sings of his longing for his home and his Dorotka. The Devil deceives him with a vision of Dorotka and Švanda signs his soul over to him. Now he is trapped! Babinský appears once again as rescuer in the hour of need. He persuades the Devil to play a game of Hell Mariage and sets the stakes high: Švanda’s bagpipes, the Devil’s own regalia and his own soul for half the Kingdom of Hell and Švanda’s soul. The Devil cheats but Babinský cheats even more and wins. But Babinský would not be Babinský if he did not give the treasure extracted from the rich Devil to the poor. He only keeps Švanda who strikes up a dance for the dwellers in Hell as he takes his leave.
On their return to Earth, Babinský warns Švanda that time spent in Hell leaves its marks behind: much time has passed and his beloved Dorotka is meanwhile an old woman. But Švanda does not listen, he wants to go home as fast as possible. He cares nothing for glory far away from home. To him, only home sweet home seems to be true happiness … but Babinský’s longing for love remains unfulfilled. He continues his life of robbery alone …