Tsar and Carpenter

Synopsis for audience members who are short of time and are happy to wing it, or who prefer the minimalist approach

An emperor and a workman are both called Peter, leading to total confusion in a small Dutch town and among international diplomats.

Synopsis for audience members who prefer the maximalist approach and want more detail

Act One

The Russian Tsar Peter I is staying incognito at a shipyard in the Dutch town of Saardam. Disguised as Peter Mikhailov, he is working there as an assistant carpenter in order to acquire knowledge of shipbuilding, which he intends his people to use to construct a huge fleet of ships. His companion Peter Ivanov is also working as an apprentice at the shipyard. While talking to him, Tsar Peter learns of Peter Ivanov’s past life as a deserter from the Russian army and his fears that he will be discovered. A further complication is that Ivanov has fallen in love with Marie, the pretty niece of the Mayor of Saardam, who is known for his investigative skills.

During a moment when they are not being observed, the Russian envoy Lefort presents a report on disturbances at home and the acute risk of an uprising against the Tsar.

The appearance of Mayor van Bett causes some excitement among the workers: he tells them that there is a foreigner by the name of Peter at the shipyard, who must be found. After a thorough inspection, Peter Ivanov emerges as a particularly suspicious character. In the meantime, the English envoy Lord Syndham and another diplomat from France, Marquis de Chateauneuf, are on a secret mission. Both are searching for the Russian Tsar, who is said to be in Saardam, so that they can conclude a diplomatic alliance with him.

Act Two

At a wedding feast, Peter Ivanov is mistakenly presented to the English envoy by Mayor van Bett as the man whom the Englishman is so anxious to find. While Lord Syndham tries to persuade Ivanov to enter into an alliance with England, Chateauneuf is also endeavouring to win over the (in this case, genuine) Tsar Peter Mikhailov for his diplomatic plans. Marie is unaware of the political negotiations and intrigues and is enjoying the wedding party. Suddenly an officer enters and reports that an increasing number of workers are being enticed away from the shipyard by foreigners. When van Bett suspects that the now indignant Peter Mikhailov is the mastermind behind this, a scuffle emerges …


Act Three

In the meantime, van Bett has become increasingly suspicious that the Peter they are looking for could be none other than the Russian Tsar himself. While the Mayor prepares a worthy speech of welcome for his high-ranking guest, Marie is disturbed to think that her beloved could be the Tsar, since in that case it would appear they could have no future together. However, Peter Mikhailov promises her that all will end well.

Ivanov, the presumed Tsar, hands over to his friend and namesake a diplomatic pass which has been given him by Lord Syndham and which will help the head of state to escape from the difficult situation he finds himself in. In exchange Mikhailov gives his faithful companion Ivanov a letter, asking him not to open it until one hour has passed.

During van Bett’s celebrations in honour of the Tsar, gunshots are heard and it is announced that a ship containing the Russian Tsar is about to leave Saardam harbour: Peter Mikhailov reveals himself as the true monarch. In the letter he has left behind, he gives permission for the wedding of Marie and Peter Ivanov to take place. A song of praise bids farewell to the benign Tsar as he disappears over the horizon …