The German comic opera Der Wildschütz, written by Albert Lortzing (1801-51), premiered in Leipzig on the last day of 1842. Nobody got spanked on that occasion, but more than one later production incorporated a spanking. What’s unusual about that is that the addition was made to a different scene each time, and featured a different character administering the spanking!
The story begins with a day that’s both good and bad for the old schoolmaster Baculus: he gets engaged to be married to the pretty young Gretchen; and he also gets fired from his job after being caught trying to cut down on the engagement party’s catering charges by doing a spot of deer-poaching on the Count of Eberbach’s land. The letter of dismissal arrives during the party itself, which is being held in the schoolroom, and drives away all of Baculus’ happiness. Gretchen proposes to call on the Count and plead for her fiancé, but since the Count is a famous philanderer, Baculus doesn’t think that’s a very good idea. (He’s probably seen Don Giovanni, which this part of the opera rather resembles,) The outcome is their first lovers’ tiff, performed in a duet: ‘Your virtue is in danger,’ he insists, and she retorts by calling him an ‘uxorious old fool’.
And with that, we drop in on the production that opened at Ulm on December 20, 2012, with Maria Rosendorfsky as Gretchen.
Here she is, all set to go off to see the Count, while Baculus (Christian Tschelebiew) tries to restrain her.
And if you look carefully, both those pictures feature one standard piece of schoolroom equipment… which Baculus now puts to work on his bride to be:
Back to the story now. The Count hasn’t seen his sister, the Baroness von Freimann, since they were children. Now she is a widow, and he has summoned her home to be married off to a passing nobleman. The Baroness has other ideas, and has disguised herself and her maid Nanette as young men, so as to give herself the freedom to travel and study the classical literature she loves. Happening upon the scene of Baculus’ difficulties, she makes him an offer: being a most feminine-looking student, why doesn’t she assume Gretchen’s identity and do the pleading with the Count on her behalf? Baculus agrees, believing that there can be no danger of immorality since any pass the Count might make will be at a cross-dressed youth. So he leads the Baroness away to show her where she can find some women’s clothes, leaving Gretchen alone with the Nanette, who is, remember, also in male disguise.
Nanette decides to have some fun with Gretchen, by making provocative remarks. Why is such a lovely young woman marrying an old man like Baculus? It would be better if Baculus did lose his job, because then Nanette could take over. And, above all, how about a cuddle? Gretchen angrily refuses… and so, off we go to New York.
The opera was produced by the Manhattan School of Music in 2002, with Nicole Warner as Nanette and Jung-a Lee as Gretchen. And Nicole’s Nanette responded to Gretchen’s rejection by doing something even more provocative:
Thereafter the story proceeds through some major complications arising from the cross-dressing and the Baroness/Gretchen identity swap. But all ends happily, not least because it turns out that Baculus was a singularly inept poacher: he didn’t shoot one of the Count’s deer after all, only his own mule. Any worries about what his guests have been eating are forgotten (or never thought of in the first place, probably), because this means his dismissal is rescinded, and he and Gretchen can look forward to their wedding a week hence.