An Opera in One Act
Story by Stella Sung
Libretto by Ernest Hilbert
As the age of kings draws to an end at the turn of the nineteenth century, the Black Death pays a late visit to the Bavarian city of Bamberg, known across Europe as the “Franconian Rome” for its seven hills, each crowned with a beautiful church. The dashing and impulsive Baron Otto von Schott, long a recluse in his ancestral fortress, is lead down the path of madness and obsession when he emerges to bid at auction for the final book he needs to complete his vast collection. To his astonishment, he is outbid by Franz Bierman, a respected local bookseller, and the Baron finds himself consumed with rage.
The indignant Baron, sensing a great injustice in being outbid by a commoner, plots revenge, ultimately entangling his lonely, unsuspecting daughter Anna in his scheme. The Baron dispatches Anna to Bierman’s shop on the St. Martin Platz, where she and Bierman bond over their shared loneliness and love of books. At her Father’s insistence, she marks the pages of the coveted volume with a red dust, which her father tells her will help him to find the book again one day. However, the dust is actually intended to weaken Bierman with a mild poison that stimulates bizarre hallucinations. Anna, fearing her newfound feelings for Bierman and tormented by thoughts of her father, flees the shot after fulfilling her father’s wishes.
After leafing through the book, Franz, now poisoned, believes he is afflicted with the Black Plague and bargains with a silent monk, who has lurked at the edge of the scene, offering the monk the treasured book as alms to the church in return for a blessing. The monk departs with the book, never speaking. Anna, distraught, recognizes she is the last of a corrupt aristocratic line and wishes to flee her father’s growing madness. As an ominous summer storm looms, she enters St. Martinskirche to pray for their salvation. Bierman, too, seeks sanctuary in the church, but he is followed by the fanatical Baron, who demands the book, unaware it has already been spirited away and hidden by the monk. Anna watches helplessly as her father’s psychosis peaks in an unthinkable act.
1800, City of Bamberg, Bavaria, Summer
Baron Otto von Schott (baritone) a middle-aged and reclusive book collector
Anna Schott (soprano) the young daughter of the Baron
Herr Franz Bierman (tenor) a young and attractive bookseller
A Monk (non-speaking role)
Auctioneer (speaking role)
Auctioneer’s Assistant (non-speaking role)