“The Bohemian Girl” is an opera written by Michael William Balfe, an Irish 19th-century singer and composer. The first production of the opera was in London in 1843, and became extremely popular among English speaking audiences. It is still being produced today, and the opera has been referred to in the writings of Irish author James Joyce, as well as the American short story writer Willa Cather.
Setting and Characters
The story of “The Bohemian Girl” is told in three acts. Set in 17th-century Poland, the story is based on a short story by Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes, entitled “La Gitanilla” (The Gypsy Girl). The characters include Arline, the Bohemian girl; Thaddeus, an exiled Polish rebel; the Queen of the Gypsies; Devilshoof, the Gypsy chief; Count Arnheim, the Count of Presberg, Poland; Florestein, Arnheim’s nephew; the Captain of the Guard; an Officer; and Buda, Arline’s attendant.
In Act I, Arline is the six-year-old daughter of Count Arnheim. She is afield during a feast in honor of the Emperor of Austria, when Thaddeus – hiding out among the Gypsies who are passing through Arnheim’s estate – sees that the young girl is about to be trampled by a wild stag. Thaddeus saves the child, and Arnheim invites Thaddeus to his feast. When asked to drink a toast to the Emperor, the rebel Thaddeus throws his drink on the Emperor’s statue, for which Devilshoof is arrested. Devilshoof escapes and kidnaps young Arline.
Twelve years pass before Act II, whereupon we find Arline a fully-acculturated Gypsy herself – filled out now as a young woman, with Thaddeus as her doting protector and suitor. The Gypsy Queen, however, is in love with Thaddeus. Thaddeus proposes to Arline, and the Gypsy Queen conspires to have Arline wear a trinket that Devilshoof has stolen from Arnheim’s nephew Florestein. Florestein, a suitor of Arline himself, does not know she is his cousin. Florstein recognizes the trinket and has Arline seized for the theft and brought before Count Arnheim for justice. An accident reveals her relation to Arnheim.
In Act III, Thaddeus sneaks around the castle pursuing his fair Arline. The Count catches on and turns Thaddeus away. Thaddeus declares to Arnheim that he is the one who saved Arline’s life, and Arnheim relents, allowing the marriage. The Gypsy Queen attempts to shoot Arline, but the bullet ricochets and kills the Gypsy Queen instead. The opera ends with a festival celebrating the Bohemian girl’s return.
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