There had been a revival of interest in Fouqué following the writer's death in 1843 to which Lortzing responded. Unlike Lortzing's earlier comedies, this work is a serious one, described as a romantische Zauberoper ('romantic magic opera').
A number of other operas and ballets have been based on Fouqué's version of the myth of the water spirit Ondine, including Tchaikovsky's Undina, E T A Hoffmann's Undine, Cesare Pugni's Ondine and Hans Werner Henze's Undine.
The knight Hugo after having won the tournament was presented a quest by Bertalda, the daughter of the Duke. She wants him to explore the enchanted forest. Hugo and his Squire Veit are forced by bad weather and floods, to take refuge in a fishing village and live there for some months. Hugo falls in love with the beautiful Undine, the foster daughter of the fishermen, and plans to marry her. He tells his bride of his previous life and that he had once loved Bertalda, but now has forgotten her. They are astonished at Undine's remark that she has no soul. As farmers and fishermen follow the Knight and Undine in the Chapel, suddenly Kühleborn appears, the Prince of the water spirits, in the disguise of a farmer and talks to Veit. He remarks that this Undine is probably only an adventure of his Lord and will not be permanent. Kühleborn had once kidnapped the real daughter of the fishermen, Bertalda, and entrusted her to the Duke. Undine was left for Tobias and Marthe to raise instead. He wanted to test whether the people who have a soul, are better off than the soulless spirits that live in the waters. He decides to watch over Undine and accompanies the young couple and Veit in the disguise of a priest to the imperial capital.
The winemaker Hans is happy to welcome back his drinking friend Veit, who tells him about his adventures and Undine. That Hugo has married a mermaid without a soul. Bertalda learns that Hugo is married, and her love turns into hate. Kühleborn joins the celebration disguised as a count from Naples. As she reviles against Undine because of their lowly origin, Kühleborn claims that Bertalda is actually the child of fishermen, and he in her real leads to parents, whom she contemptuously rejects. To prove that she is of noble blood, she displays a box of father the Duke. A letter inside the box attests Kühleborns claim. Horrified Bertalda collapses. Kühleborn declares that he is the Prince of the water and disappears before their eyes in the waters of the fountain in the Hall.
Bertalda seduces Hugo. He tells Undine that he'll no longer live with a water globin. Undine warns him of Kühleborns revenge and anger, but he determines to make Bertalda his wife anyway. Kühleborn brings Undine back into the water depths. He explains that beings with a soul were no better than the spirits without them.
Hugo cannot forget Undine and his bad dreams haunt him. Veit and Hans, who has entered into Hugo's service, celebrate the wedding of their Lord with Bertalda, which will take place on this day. Intoxicated, they remove the stones blocking the castle fountian. Slowly arising from the water Undine in a white mask goes weeping into the Castle. During the marriage celebration in the castle hall, Hugo, in vain, seeks to dispel ill forebodings. At midnight, the lights go out. Undine, surrounded by a mysterious blue light, appears. Hugo throws himself at her feet. A flood of water destroys the Castle. The Palace of Kühleborn appears with Undine and Hugo kneeling before him. He is forgiven but must remain forever in the realm of the water spirits.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, April 21, 1845.
|Bertalda, presumed daughter of Duke Heinrich||soprano||Beer|
|Hans, a cellarer||bass|
|Hugo von Ringstetten||tenor||Nissen|
|Kühleborn, prince of the water spirits||baritone||Werlitz|
|Tobias, a fisherman||bass|
|Undine, Tobias's adopted daughter||soprano||Marie Minna Kiel|
|Veit, Ringstetten's squire||tenor||Quint|
- 1951 - Trude Eipperle (Undine), Christa Ludwig (Bertalda), Else Tegetthoff (Marthe), Karl Friedrich (Hugo), Ferdinand Frantz (Kühleborn), Willy Hofmann (Veit), Frithjof Sentpaul (Tobias), Aage Poulsen (Pater Heilmann), Sanders Schier (Hans) - Chor und Sinfonieorchester des Hessischen Rundfunks Frankfurt, Carl-Alexander Hafner - (Cantus-Lin)
- 1966 - Anneliese Rothenberger (Undine) • Ruth-Margret Pütz (Bertalda) • Nicolai Gedda (Hugo) • Peter Schreier (Veit) • Hermann Prey (Kühleborn) • Gottlob Frick (Hans/Pater Heilmann) • Sieglinde Wagner (Marthe) • Hans Günther Grimm (Tobias) • RSO Berlin conducted by Robert Heger, EMI Classics