Opéra-Comique, Salle des Nouveautés, Paris
In the vicinity of a small Chinese village, a mysterious bronze horse appears now and then. When a man mounts it, it takes off into the sky, and the rider disappears forever. Nobody knows where he has gone or what the whole thing is about.
The farmer Tchin-Kao has married his daughter off to the rich mandarin Tsing-Sing, whose stable of wives has thus grown to five women. It is a good deal, as Tchin-Kao will receive a princely bride price. Pe-Ki, the young bride, is unhappy, as she loves Yan-Ko, a farm boy, whom she is not allowed to marry, however, as he is without means.
A damper is put on the mandarin’s happiness with the arrival of his fourth wife, Tao-Jin, who is a cousin to the emperor and who abuses her privileged position as much as possible in order to make her husband’s life a misery. She has managed to have Tsing-Sing elected »confidante and constant companion« to the imperial prince, whom he must now constantly accompany everywhere he goes. Then the prince arrives. For a long time now, he has been restlessly travelling the world, looking for a mysterious woman whom he has loved since encountering her in a dream. Tsing-Sing sees his chance of enjoying the pleasures of the wedding night melting away. Pe-Ki tells the prince of the bronze horse, and of the fact that in his despair, Yan-Ko mounted it and rode it up into the sky because she had to marry Tsing-Sing. At this point, Yan-Ko surprises everyone by returning to earth, but he does not wish to tell where he has been.
Tao-Jin demands of Tsing-Sing that he immediately divorce Pe-Ki. Pe-Ki is joyous at the thought; Tsing-Sing absolutely refuses. But his luck immediately becomes even worse: the adventure-seeking prince decides to take a ride on the bronze horse, and Tsing-Sing must accompany him.
Tchin-Kao is very satisfied with this turn of events. The fact that Tsing-Sing is hardly likely to return means that he can once more marry off his daughter, and look forward to another bride price. Pe-Ki insists that, as she is now a widow, she is free to choose her next husband herself. And her choice is naturally Yan-Ko. Unimpressed, Tchin-Kao visits his new son-in-law and invites the guests to the second wedding celebration.
Tao-Jin has arranged for Pe-Ki and Yan-Ko to secretly marry immediately and then flee. It is an elegant way of ridding herself of her rival.Tao-Jin has barely had a chance to imagine her life as a widow before the bronze horse returns with her husband. But he replies to her barrage of questions as to what he experienced up there with the same answer as Yan-Ko: anyone who tells the tale will immediately turn to stone.
The mandarin, exhausted from his journey through the heavens, falls asleep, and in his dreams relives the wonders of his travels. Pe-Ki listens to the words he utters in his slumbers, and learns the secret.Tchin-Kao arrives with musicians in order to serenade the sleeping mandarin. But he cannot be woken, as he has turned to stone. Yan-Ko finds this very amusing, and wishes to explain the mistake the mandarin has made – yet in doing so, he also says too much and turns to stone as well. Everyone is paralysed with horror. Only Pe-Ki, who has meanwhile changed her attire for her escape, seizes the initiative and jumps up onto the bronze horse, which takes off into the sky with her on it.
The ride on the bronze horse takes Pe-Ki to Venus, where only women live. This is also where Princess Stella lives, the mysterious beauty from the prince’s dream. Pe-Ki is informed by the strict Lo-Mangli about the rules which govern here. Every man who arrives on Venus must resist the charms of the women for one day. If he is tempted into even the smallest of caresses, he is immediately flung back to Earth, where he is forbidden to tell of his experiences on pain of being turned into stone. If he manages to resist temptation, however, he can take away the princess’s magic bracelet, so that she must follow him and be his wife.
The prince tries hard and resists for quite some time, but then does eventually succumb to the charms of his dream woman, and has to return to Earth – where he immediately falls prey to the temptation of reporting his experiences, and turns to stone. Pe-Ki, whom Venus’s inhabitants take for an exceptionally pretty and likeable young man, dressed as she is in men’s garb, passes the test with ease. She takes the magic bracelet for herself, and returns to Earth with the princess, where she uses the magic object to restore the three men to life. The prince and the princess fall in each others’ arms, and Tsing-Sing is prevailed upon to allow Pe-Ki and Yan-Ko to marry.
Werner Hintze (translation: www.eubylon.de)