Major Operas | Bánk bán by Ferenc Erkel | High Romantic
Premiered: 1861, Pest
Libretto by Béni Egressy after József Katona’s play
King Endre of Hungary is away at war and his wife Gertrud and her corrupt followers have taken control at court.
At Gertrud’s instigation, her brother Otto intends to seduce Bánk’s wife Melinda. Rebels opposed to Gertrud have sent a message to Bánk seeking his help. Word arrives of Endre’s victory. Bánk arrives and is told that Melinda is in danger. He promises to help the rebels. Bánk observes Otto’s advances to Melinda and is tormented by jealousy, even though he believes she remains devoted to him. Biberach, who has his own plans for revenge, helps to turn Bánk against Gertrud and gives Otto a powder with which he is to drug the unfortunate Melinda.
Bánk fears for the country’s future. Biberach brings news that Otto has raped Melinda, who pleads with Bánk to kill her but to spare their child. Bánk asks Tiborc, an old peasant, to escort them to his castle. Bánk confronts Gertrud in her room, accusing her of encouraging her brother’s depravity and ruining the country. When she draws a dagger he stabs her.
Tiborc tries to persuade Melinda to cross the River Tisza before the storm breaks. By now she is raving and uncomprehending of her situation. Picking up the child, she throws herself in the river and drowns. Endre has returned and the court is in mourning. The nobles try to convince him of Gertrud’s crimes. Bánk admits that he killed Gertrud and justifies his action. As Endre prepares to fight him in a duel, Tiborc appears with peasants carrying the bodies of Melinda and the child. Stricken with grief, Bánk begs to be buried alongside them. Endre pardons him, since this is punishment enough.
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