The Plot

The story takes place in Soulina, a small town of Rumania, by the river Danube. When the curtain rises, we see a busy street near the town’s port and two groups of stevedores  working.

Tristano is the head of the one group, and is trying to turn his workers against those of the other. Lunch time arrives an the worker’s wives come to bring them food. Among them is Natalia, Tristano’s wife, who announces him that their young daughter is seriously ill. Tristano stays unmoved and asks Natalia for the gold watch he had given her when the child was born, supposedly to show to a friend.

The women with Natalia leave, and a young singer named Nina appears, sitting at a café. Tristano goes up to her, tells her that he loves her and gives her the gold Watch belonging to his wife. While Nina seems to be having fun, a river-boat enters the port. Two colleagues of Nina arrive, in order to perform with her, named Baciacieli and Weisheit. Natalia, when coming out of a pharmacy meets the boat’s captain, Mikael, who is her old love. He is still in love with her and offers to help her. Their conversation is interrupted by the shouts of the workers, who, with Tristano as their leader, have started quarrelling. Nina and her friends are watching. The curtain falls at the peak of the fight.

After a short intermezzo, the curtain rises again, and we see the inside of a café. The waitresses are talking about their beloved and the three singers appear, to get ready for the show. Mikael enters and Nina tries to seduce him, but with no success. Gradually the clients appear, making jokes with the waitresses and then the program begins with Baciacieli who sings a romantic song, greatly liked. Then comes the turn of Weisheit who sings an arioso and is interrupted by disapproving shouts and last of all appears Nina, who sings a lovely song everyone applauds. Natalia comes in, looking lost, and seeking Tristano to tell him that their daughter is dead. While all the workers express their condolences, Tristano accuses Natalia of lying. She reminds him of the bad life she has lead with him and gives him her curse. Tristano gets very angry, drives Natalia out and then wanting to divert the crowd’s attention, accuses Mikael of being Natalia’s lover. Mikael denies it, but admits that he still loves her and says that Natalia is a “Martyr”. Natalia and Mikael leave and the curtain falls while the workers and their wives make their exit.

The third act takes place inside Tristano’s house, where Natalia is desperate. Mikael and some workers enter and express their condolences. When Natalia and Mikael are left alone, they remember their old love and agree to live together somewhere else as soon as the child is buried. But as soon as Mikael leaves, Natalia decides to commit suicide by breathing the fumes from the heat, and remain loyal to her child. When she is close to death she tries to open the window. But faints. Tristano’s voice is heard, returning home drunk. He knocks at the locked door, and breaks it down believing that the two lovers are inside. What he sees are the open eyes of Natalia, who is dead. He moves back terrified. Curtain falls.