Maria Kobielska …………. Mariken
Pavla Vykopalava … Sister Paskalina
Stanislava Jirku ……. Mother of God
Jana Levicova ….. The Foolish Virgin
Jiri Hajek …………. God the Son
Svatopluk Sem ……..…The Devil
Jaroslav Brezina …….. Mascaron
Ivan Kusnjer ………….. Blacksmith
Frantisek Zahradnicek … Drunkard
Jakub Gottwald ………….. Narrator
Prague National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Jiři Belohlavek, conductor
The four dramas of Martinů's opera are modern takes on the medieval tradition of Mystery and Miracle Plays.
PART ONE is a sort of prologue, called "The Wise and Foolish Virgins," based on a French liturgical play -- with roots in the Gospel of Matthew -- about ten virgins waiting for the Heavenly Bridegroom. Five of them, the wise ones, have come prepared with oil-filled lamps. The others have lamps, but no oil. When Christ arrives, only the wise virgins can join him, and pass through the gates of heaven.
Most of the virgins are played by dancers; only one has a singing role. The Bridegroom is portrayed by a quartet of voices, while the chorus serves both to observe and comment on the action.
PART TWO is called "Mariken of Nimégue," and is based on a Flemish legend. The role of Mariken is played by both a singer and a dancer, and the drama also includes brief passages of spoken narration.
Mariken is a beautiful young woman who gets lost in the woods and prays to the Virgin Mary for help. Instead, she's greeted by the Devil, who tempts her into a life of wealth and sensual pleasures. She travels with him from village to village, corrupting the local people along the way.
Eventually, they return to her home village, where a religious play is being staged. It's a story about the son of God; Mary, the mother of God; and Mascaron, the Devil's representative. Against the Devil's urgings, Mariken attends the play, which is ultimately about God's mercy and forgiveness. Seeing that the play's message has moved Mariken, the Devil seizes her, sends her high into the air, then slams her to the ground. But when Mary intervenes, Mariken repents and is granted forgiveness.
PART THREE, "The Nativity," is a pastoral drama based on Moravian folk poetry, depicting the birth of Christ. It's presented as a sort of staged oratorio, with the chorus playing a key role.
The Virgin Mary is seeking a place to sleep for the night, and is rejected by both the innkeeper and the local blacksmith. Eventually, she winds up in a stable, where she gives birth and lays her child in the manger.
The blacksmith's daughter then appears. Mary asks her to pick up the child and hand him to her. But the girl can't, as she has no hands. Then, as she leans over the manger, she's miraculously cured. She runs to her father, who is now ashamed at having turned Mary away, as angels announce the birth of the lord, and the entire world welcomes him.
PART FOUR is called "Sister Paskalina." It begins as Paskalina, a respected nun, is called to morning services at her convent. But she's deep in a dream -- a vision of a demon, who tries to win her away from the Holy Virgin by promising her the love of a gallant knight.
Paskalina wakes up, and heads for mass. But on the way she sees the knight and can't resist him. She goes to the statue of the Mother of God, leaves her veil and her keys to the convent at the statue's feet, and leaves with her new lover.
The two are married, and seem to be living happily. But the Devil steps in. He kills the knight, but makes it seem that Paskalina has murdered him. She's convicted, and condemned to burn at the stake.
As the fire surrounds her, the Mother of God steps in and stops the flames. When Paskalina returns to the convent, she's astonished to find that the other nuns never knew she was gone. The Mother of God had taken her place, and no one ever missed her. Paskalina is forgiven, and dies as the morning mass begins.