Svanda the Bagpiper

Schwanda the Bagpiper

Schwanda the Bagpiper, also known as Švanda the Bagpiper (Švanda dudák), is an opera in two acts, with music by Jaromír Weinberger to a Czech libretto by Miloš Kareš, based on a story by Josef Kajetán Tyl. Its first performance was at the Czech National Opera, Prague, on 27 April 1927. It premiered in German, with the translation by Max Brod, at Breslau on 16 December 1928. Other productions quickly followed:

At the time, the opera, with its use of Czech folk material, enjoyed considerable success, with translations into 17 languages. Since that time, the opera has fallen from the repertory, although in orchestral performances and recordings, Schwanda's bagpipe polka and fugue now together form a concert work that is heard more often than the opera itself.


  • Schwanda (baritone)
  • Dorota, his wife (soprano)
  • Babinsky, a bandit (tenor)
  • The Queen (mezzo-soprano)
  • Magician
  • Devil
  • Judge
  • Headsman
  • A familiar
  • Captain of the Devil's Guard
  • Two foresters


It has been a week since Schwanda and Dorota married. The robber Babinski takes refuge in their farmhouse, and immediately falls for Dorota. Babinski quickly convinces Schwanda of the tedium of married life, and persuades him to go off on an adventure. They arrive at the Queen's court, where she is under the power of a wicked Magician. The Queen had made a deal with the Magician where she consented to the death of the Prince, her betrothed, in exchange for a heart of ice (and thus no human feeling) and a diamond scepter, symbolic of her power. Schwanda plays his bagpipes, which breaks the spell. The Queen then offers herself to Schwanda in marriage. Schwanda accepts, kissing her, but then Dorota appears, which angers the Queen. The Queen, her heart now again of ice, has Schwanda and Dorota imprisoned and Schwanda condemned to death.

Babinski helps save Schwanda by replacing the executioner's axe with a broom. Schwanda plays his bagpipes again, enchanting the crowd gathered for the execution, and escapes with Dorota. Dorota herself is now angry at Schwanda and questions his fidelity. Schwanda retorts that if he ever kissed the Queen, may he go to Hell. Forgetting that he did kiss the Queen, Schwanda immediately drops through the earth into Hell. Babinski then tells Dorota that he loves her, but she makes him promise to rescue Schwanda.

In Hell, the Devil asks Schwanda to play for him, since he has nothing to do, because no one will play cards with the Devil because he always cheats. Schwanda at first refuses, but then Babinski appears and challenges the Devil to a card game. By cheating even more than the Devil, Babinski wins the game and rescues Schwanda. Schwanda then does play here, the music that forms the fugue. At the end, Schwanda and Dorota are reconciled, and Babinski sorrowfully leaves, in search of new adventures.


  • CBS M2K79344: Hermann Prey, Lucia Popp, Siegfried Jerusalem, Gwendolyn Killebrew, Alexander Malta, Siegmund Nimsgern, Karl Kreile, Albert Gassner, Heinrich Weber, Georg Baumgartner, Anton Rosner, Peter Lika; Bavarian Radio Chorus; Munich Radio Orchestra; Heinz Wallberg, conductor (sung in German)
  • Naxos 8.660146-7: Matjaz Robavs, Tatiana Mongarrova, Ivan Choupenitch, Larisa Kostyuk, Alexander Teliga, Nicholas Sharratt, Pavel Kozel, Alexander Teliga, Sean Ruane, Pavel Kozel, Vicenç Esteve, Richard Weigold; Wexford Festival Opera Chorus; National Philharmonic Orchestra of Belarus; Julian Reynolds, conductor (sung in Czech)


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