The Good Soldier SchweikAct I
An Opera in Two Acts
Libretto by Lewis Allan
Music by Robert Kurka
The opera is based on The Good Soldier, Schweik by Jaroslav Hasek
"Osudy Dobrého Vojáka Švejka Za Světové Války"
Joseph Schweik hears about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo from his cleaning woman, Mrs. Muller and receives the news with characteristic good-natured calm. He goes, as usual, to "The Flagon," a tavern occupied at the moment by Palivec, the landlord, and Bretschneider, a plainclothes policeman on secret service who is hoping to pick up some anti-Austrian expressions of opinion on the heels of the assassination. He draws the conversation into political channels and arrest Schweik and Bretschneider for some harmless remarks.
Schweik is taken to police headquarters where he is interrogated and thrown into a cell among other innocent victims of the war hysteria, including Palivec. Schweik, always the optimist, points out how much better off they are than in the days of mediaeval torture. As he is expounding his ideas, he is dragged out to be examined by a commission of medical authorities consisting of three psychiatrists of divergent schools of thought. His bland good nature convinces them that he is an idiot and they commit Schweik to a mental institution.
In contrast to the world outside, Schweik enjoys the advantages of a public institution. He is examined again by two other doctors who become convinced that he is feigning the role of a happy simpleton and is in reality a malingerer seeking to escape military service. They have him thrown out of the asylum despite his resentful and vigorous protests.
Back home again, in bed with a chronic attack of rheumatism, Schweik informs Mrs. Muller that he has received his draft call and patriotism impels him to report for induction immediately. His excited behavior and feverish enthusiasm alarm Mrs. Muller but she obeys his wishes and tearfully pushes Schweik along the street in a wheelchair while he brandishes his crutches and shouts enthusiastically, "On to Belgrade!" followed by an appreciatively gleeful crowd. Act II
Schweik and a group of other suspected malingerers including Palivec are confined to a hut used as an infirmary where an army doctor tries to convince them by various unorthodox methods that serving the Emperor is preferable to malingering. As he is engaged in this practical group therapy, the sergeant ushers in Baroness Von Botzenheim, followed by her retinue bearing hampers of food and gifts. She has come to see Joseph Schweik whose patriotic gesture in reporting for the draft in a wheel chair and with crutches has captured the columns of the newspapers. Schweik and his companions devour the food with ravenous appetites. When the Baroness and her retinue have gone, the furious doctor has them all thrown into the guardhouse.
There, they attend a sermon conducted by the Army Chaplain who storms at them for their enslavement to carnal appetites at the expense of the spirit. Schweik breaks into tears and sobs audibly. The Chaplain appoints him as his orderly. Shortly after, the Chaplain loses Schweik to Lieutenant Henry Lukash during a spirited game of poker.
In his first day of service, the good-natured Schweik amiably complicates Lieutenant Lukash’s life. He lets the canary out of its cage to become friends with the cat whereupon the cat gobbles up the bird. Annoyed at the cat’s unfriendly disposition, he chases him out of the house. In order to replace the cat, he steals a monstrous dog. At the same time, Mrs. Katy Wendler, one of the Lieutenant’s paramours arrives bag and baggage. Schweik puts her up in the Lieutenant’s bedroom and to facilitate her early departure notifies her husband. When Lieutenant Lukash arrives home, he is caught in the center of a vortex involving the dog, Katy Wendler, Colonel Kraus Von Zillergut, owner of the stolen dog, Katy’s husband, Mr. Wendler and of course, Schweik. As a result, the furious Colonel orders Lieutenant Lukash and Schweik sent off immediately to the front.
On the Prague-Budejovice express enroute to their destination, Schweik gets the Lieutenant into further difficulties with a bald-headed General Von Schwarzburg whom he mistakes for a bald-headed Mr. Purkabek. The Lieutenant gives Schweik a wrathful dressing down for the mistaken identity at the conclusion of which Schweik accidentally pulls the emergency brake, bringing the train to a sudden stop. Schweik is arrested and taken off the train to the great relief of Lieutenant Lukash who now sees a tranquil future ahead of him even though at the front.
During the final stopover in Budejovice before moving into the front lines, the Lieutenant tries to establish a romance between himself and a Madame Kakonyi. While he is writing a letter to the lady to arrange for a meeting, Schweik unexpectedly arrives to report for duty again. Overwhelmed by the fate which pursues him in the person of Schweik, Lieutenant Lukash accepts the inevitable and sends his orderly to deliver the letter to Madame Kakonyi personally.
On the way Schweik meets Voditchka, an old pal, and they celebrate at a tavern. Schweik finally remembers his unfulfilled mission and the pals leave, somewhat unsteadily, to complete it. In attempting to deliver the letter to the lady, they become embroiled in an argument with her husband, Mr. Kakonyi, out of which develops a street brawl involving the local police, Czech soldiers and German military police. To protect Lieutenant Lukash, Schweik swallows the letter.
Lieutenant Lukash and Schweik finally reach the front, a scene of vast devastation. The Lieutenant sends Schweik and a sergeant on advance patrol. They set out together but later differ as to the correct direction to continue. Even though the sergeant’s memory and the map seem to prove him right, Schweik insists that maps may be wrong. Schweik and the sergeant part company, the sergeant following the map and Schweik following his inclination. He takes another road and disappears.