After reviewing a performance of J. F. von Auffenberg’s play Der Löwe von Kurdistan, based on Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman, Marschner decided – with his librettist Wohlbrück – to write an opera based on one of Scott’s novels. They chose Ivanhoe. By eliminating non-essential characters and simplifying the plot, Wohlbrück developed the libretto from J. R. Lenz’s play Das Gericht der Templer (Breslau, 7 May 1824), which Lenz had based on one or more of several English plays, particularly W. T. Moncrieff’s Ivanhoe! or, The Jewess (London, 24 January 1820), that were performed in England after the publication of Scott’s book.|
Universally considered during the 19th century as Marschner’s most popular opera, Der Templer und die Jüdin was performed more than any of the others – over 200 times in Germany alone. Additional performances took place in Denmark, Holland, Russia, England, the USA, and Hungary. Towards the end of the century, both Mottl and Kleinmichel simplified the libretto, eliminating several minor roles; the latter published a new edition of the vocal score in 1896. In 1912, Pfitzner overhauled the work again and published an even newer edition. A few performances using it were given, including those in Lübeck (1912), Strasbourg (1912), and Cologne (1913). Since that era, however, escalating costs and censorship have combined to discourage further productions, although a significant revival was heard at the Wexford Festival in 1989.
The cast at the Leipzig première included W. Pögner (Cedric), Ubrich (Ivanhoe), S. Löwe (Rowena), Hammermeister (Bois-Guilbert), Schütz (Black Knight), A. Wiedemann (Wamba), F. Fischer (Tuck) and F. Franchetti-Walzel (Rebecca).
Act 1.i A wild, romantic glen in the forest De Bracy and his Norman knights emerge from cover to ambush Bois-Guilbert’s party of Templars, but shortly after the fight starts Bois-Guilbert calls a halt to it. Each leader confesses that he intends to win a particular woman. Bois-Guilbert names the lovely Jewess Rebecca and De Bracy, relieved that Bois-Guilbert has no interest in Cedric’s ward, agrees to help the Templar capture her. As they leave, Cedric and Rowena enter with Saxon knights. Cedric curses the tournament at Ashby from which he has just come because his disinherited son Ivanhoe was the victor there; Rowena, who is in love with Ivanhoe, chides him for his harshness. Cedric hates the idea of Ivanhoe marrying Rowena, but Wamba urges him in the lied ‘’S wird besser geh’n’, nevertheless, to leave the lovers alone. Oswald rushes in to report that Isaac, Rebecca and Ivanhoe have been captured; the Saxons march off to avenge the wrong, singing their battle song ‘Wer Kraft und Muth in freier Brust’. Wamba’s lied, not at all the rustic folksong its title suggests, has the compound time, guitar-like accompaniment, and melodic contour characteristic of the Italian bel canto style popular at that time. But the opening and closing sections of the scene each feature a different chorus of knights singing in the more triadic and tonally conservative German style.
1.ii Inside Friar Tuck’s hut in the forest Tuck serves wine to a mysterious guest, known as the Black Knight, while singing the drinking song, ‘Der barfüssler Mönch seine Zelle verliess, Ora pro nobis!’ (in performance, the piece was often censored because of the juxtaposition of texts devoted to drinking and prayer). The style here is completely German and in the final verses Tuck’s refrain, ‘Ora pro nobis!’, is set first against a laughing counterpoint provided by the Black Knight and is then taken up by a band of outlaws who have wandered in to listen. Their leader, Locksley, recognizes the Black Knight and asks if he will help rescue an unidentified Englishman and his niece. The Black Knight readily agrees.
1.iii An apartment in a castle turret Locked inside the turret, Rebecca prays. Bois-Guilbert enters and claims her as his property because he won her in battle, but she wrenches herself free when Saxon soldiers attack the castle. Bois-Guilbert rushes off to join the fight and Rebecca escapes to the bedside of the wounded Ivanhoe, who convinces her that she must flee. As she leaves, the Black Knight dashes in to help Ivanhoe escape. Unlike previous scenes, this one is cast almost entirely as a series of small ensemble sections that permit maximum simultaneous interaction among characters and propel the drama forward at the frenetic pace its content demands. (This kind of musical construction enabled Marschner to break away from such of his contemporaries as Lortzing, who continued to pursue in their number operas the older and simpler style of Singspiel. Later, in Hans Heiling, Marschner used this new design to enhance the psychological development of characters, thereby paving the way for Wagner.)
1.iv A courtyard inside the castle Frenziedly seeking an escape route, Rebecca stumbles into Bois-Guilbert, who is staggering from wounds. When she refuses to elope with him, he carries her off. The fight reaches the stage and the Saxons win.
Act 2.i A forest clearing The morning after the battle, Tuck, the Black Knight and a band of outlaws praise the great outdoors in a rousing Germanic hunting chorus calculated to relieve some of the tension built up in the previous act. Having discovered their merrymaking, Ivanhoe enters with the Black Knight, who reveals himself to be King Richard the Lionheart, back from the Crusades.
2.ii The hall of justice at Templestowe The Templars enter, Beaumanoir presiding, followed by Bois-Guilbert, the victim of Rebecca’s supposed powers of witchcraft. Ordered to stand trial by ordeal, Rebecca must name a champion to face a representative of the Templars. When Bois-Guilbert offers to fight on her behalf, the knights pick him as their representative. He sinks to the ground in despair.
Act 3.i Richard’s throne room The king listens as Ivanhoe extends his praise for Richard to all of England in the stirring patriotic Romanze ‘Wer ist der Ritter hochgeehrt’ (a piece that became so popular that audiences would join in at the anthem-like refrain, ‘Du stolzes England, freue dich’, as they do in Iolanthe). Wamba provides a facetious commentary on their seriousness in his equally famous lied ‘Es ist doch gar köstlich, ein König zu sein’.
3.ii A dungeon in Templestowe In a fervent prayer (preghiera) with ethereal harp-like accompaniment, ‘Herr, aus tiefen Jammersnöthen’, Rebecca begs for deliverance from an unjust fate. Bois-Guilbert knocks on the door and offers to undergo the scourging of a dishonoured knight if she will only love him, but she refuses as guards take her away.
3.iii The tournament grounds The Templars march in to join Rebecca, who stands in chains. Bois-Guilbert begs her to escape with him, but she prefers the stake. Ivanhoe appears unexpectedly as her champion, and the duel begins. Initially, Bois-Guilbert seems to be winning, but as he is about to deal Ivanhoe a crushing blow, he drops dead. The king enters and asserts his authority over the land as the Templars bear off Bois-Guilbert’s body.
As a Schilleresque historical drama, Der Templer und die Jüdin is close in structure to Weber’s Euryanthe (as opposed to Der Freischütz, the model for Der Vampyr, which is more a Gothic romance) and embodies a mixture of German and Italian elements. There are extended sections of secco recitative; but there are also sections of choral writing that draw on the traditions of the German choral society (to one of which Marschner belonged), with its direct, diatonic writing. More forward-looking are the flexibly constructed scenes, some of them using ensemble sections that permit maximum interaction between characters and help to propel the drama forward.