THE operetta opens in the palace of the mythical kingdom of Karlsberg. It is 1860. Prince Karl Franz, heir to the throne, is bored with royal life in his native land. With his tutor, Doctor Engel, he plans a visit to the old German University town of Heidelberg. Engel recalls nostalgically his own youth in Heidelberg, as the Prince looks forward with considerable anticipation to his future freedom in that delightful city ("Golden Days"). When they arrive in Heidelberg it is spring, and the world is in bloom. The Prince, now incognito, joins his new comrades in a student's song ("Student's Marching Song"), after which they parade to the "Golden Apple Inn". There the students raise their Steins of beer in a robust toast to drink and romance ("Drinking Song"). They call for Kathie, the lovely young daughter of the innkeeper. She addresses the students with considerable warmth of feeling, after which she comes to the Prince's table and dedicates to him a sentimental song about Heidelberg ("In Heidelberg Fair"). The students respond with a vigorous rendition of the age-old student hymn, "Gaudeamus Igitur". Before long, Kathie and the Prince are strongly attracted to each other. In the ensuing weeks their friendship ripens into love ("Deep in My Heart"); one beautiful evening the Prince is inspired to sing a serenade under her window ("Serenade"). But their love idyll is doomed. The news arrives from Karlsberg that the king is dead, and Prince Karl Franz must return to ascend the throne. More than that, he must, for reasons of State, marry Princess Margaret. Realizing that their life together is over, they bid each other a sentimental farewell.
But back in Karlsberg, the new king cannot forget Heidelberg or Kathie. As he sits in his royal suite, visions arise of the place where he had been so happy, and the girl with whom he had been so in love. Unable to contain himself any longer, he leaves Karlsberg to revisit Heidelberg. When the lovers meet again they are deeply moved, but they also know that a permanent union is an impossibility. They say farewell for a last time, with a pledge to keep at least their memories of each other alive as long as they live.
The original New York run of The Student Prince (608 performances) represented the longest of any Sigmund Romberg operetta. The operetta is now a classic of the American theatre, repeatedly revived.
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