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The Story of 'Genoveva'

The opera is set in 8th-century Brabant, a territory now in the nations of Belgium and the Netherlands. Genoveva is the wife of Count Siegfried and as ACT ONE begins, he's departing for war against the Moors as part of a crusading army that's being rallied by Bishop Hidulfus. To keep his wife safe, Siegfried leaves Genoveva under the protection of the young knight Golo -- not realizing that Golo is in love with her.

With Genoveva exhausted after Siegfried's emotional departure, Golo stokes his passion by kissing her as she sleeps. He's urged on by the sorceress Margaretha, who has a grudge against Siegfried and is planning revenge.

As ACT TWO begins, Golo tells Genoveva that Siegfried has been victorious in the war. Genoveva is ecstatic, thinking her husband will soon be home. Hoping to cash in on her enthusiasm, Golo takes her in his arms. But she rejects him harshly, calling him a "vile bastard," and sends him away.

Hurt and angry, Golo curses Genoveva and vows to destroy her. He hires the servant Drago to help, asking him to hide in Genoveva's bedroom that night. Drago agrees -- but gets more than he bargained for. Later, along with some other servants, Margaretha bursts into Genoveva's room, finding Drago there, as well. Then, according to plan, she quickly summons Golo. He kills Drago, then denounces Genoveva for her supposed infidelity and has her hauled off to the dungeon.

In ACT THREE, Count Siegfried has stopped on his way home from battle, to recover from a wound, when Golo arrives with the news about Genoveva.

To make things seem even worse, Margaretha produces what she describes as a magic mirror, and uses it to trick Siegfried with what she claims are images of Genoveva's betrayal. Believing it all, Siegfried decides that Genoveva must die, and Golo leaves to see that it's done.

ACT FOUR takes place in a forest, where the authorities have brought Genoveva to be executed. Golo tries to give her one last chance, saying that he'll save her if she runs away with him. But she refuses -- rejecting him again. Golo is despondent, but finds that he really has no interest in seeing Genoveva die, after all. He wanders off alone, and is never seen again.

In the meantime, Margaretha has seen the light. Or, rather, she's seen the ghost of the murdered Drago, who convinces her to tell Siegfried the truth. Siegfried, now knowing that Genoveva is innocent, arrives at home just in time to save her. As the two are reunited, the bishop gives the couple his blessing as the opera ends.

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