Act One The time is 1930. The story begins in a small garrison town in the South of France , on a Sunday afternoon in summer . As the curtain rises, young men and girls are going to the cinema, among them a servant girl, Kathrin and her friend Margot. There are also a number of soldiers, including Francois, who is really a strolling minstrel by profession, and doing his military service. He sings eloquently of his love of singing- and of girls. Kathrin and Francois meet and fall in love- but late that evening, after Kathrin confesses all to Margot, her friend tells her she'll lose her job if her employer finds out about her new romance. Margot urges Kathrin to write Francois a letter saying she will never see him again. She does so , in one of Korngold's most poignant arias. Kathrin retires for the night only to be awakened by knocking: it is Francois. He climbs trough her window and confesses his true profession- as a singer. An ecstatic love duet follows and the two spend the night together. Some weeks later, Francois is posted to Algiers with his regiment. Kathrin now pregnant, has been sacked by her employer. As the soldiers and Francois march away singing triumphant marching song, she kneels before a statue of the Virgin Mary to pray for the future of her lover - and their child .
The second act takes place some months later. It is now Winter and snow is falling. At a country inn on the Swiss - French border, the innkeeper is arguing with a vagabond who is trying to sell her a silk dress. Outside Kathrin comes walking along the country road. She is distressed and on her way to find Francois. At the inn, Kathrin meets Malignac, an unscrupulous and lascivious nightclub owner from Marseilles, who, giving her a forget passport, promises to take her there, supposedly to find Francois. But Malignac has other plans.! The second scene is set in Malignac's club - Chez Chou - Chou. By a strange co-incidence Francois has been employed at the club as a singer and in much desired by Cou-Chou the leading chanteuse, who is trying to teach him how to sing in a more lively way for the customers. She attempts to seduce him in a deliciously evocative cabaret song, accompanied by an on-stage jazz band. Malignac arrives and, waiting for Kathrin alone in his private salon, he declares his unbridled passion and love for her. But he is interrupted by his lover Monique and a heated argument ensues . She gives Malignac an ultimatum - she want to become his wife or else! They struggle - and he throws her on the floor. As he leaves, she shouts him that he will pay for his insult with his life. Malignac invites Kathrin in to his salon and attempts to kiss her. Francois walks in on Malignac just as he holds Kathrin in his arms and threatens to shoot him. But his taken away Malignac's henchmen. Malignac then attempts to force himself on Kathrin but is shot dead by Monique who has been hiding behind a curtain. She uses Francois pistol. Kathrin assumes Francois has committed murder to save her, while Francois believes it to be Kathrin's deed - and protesting his "guilt", he goes to jail, thinking hi is saving his sweetheart. Kathrin left alone, sings eloquently of her despair - and then her hope for her child .
Act Three Five years have passed since the events in Marseilles. Kathrin now manages a small inn in the Swiss mountains, with her little son (who is also named Francois). It is supper time and church bells are ringing. Kathrin still waits hopefully for Francois but is being pursued by a young tailor. After the supper, she goes to bring Lisl, the cow, home from the meadow, while her little boy waits her outside. A stranger comes down the path - it is Francois. He sings a beautiful and nostalgic song - the song of the wanderer. The tailor comes back. He wishes he could sing, so that he might serenade Kathrin. Hearing Francois with his lute, he asks him to sing a song about a sailor (to which he can then mime), to impress Kathrin. She returns as the serenade ends. Francois sees her and reveals himself. But believing he is too late and that she is Tailor's bride to be, he turns away to leave. Kathrin hurried explains that she is not involved with the Tailor and reveals her son to be Francois' own. After a blissful duet, all misunderstandings are resolved and the two pledge their undying love for each other as the opera ends is elegiac mood .
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