Time: The religious wars of 16th centuryPlace: Germany.
(Jean de Leyde (based on the historical John of Leiden), whose beloved, Berthe, is coveted by Count Oberthal, ruler of Dordrecht, is persuaded by a trio of sinister Anabaptists to proclaim himself king in Münster)
Meyerbeer originally wrote a long overture for the opera but this was cut, with various other sections of the work, during rehearsals due to the excessive length of the opera itself.
The overture now survives only in the arrangement made for piano solo or duet made at Meyerbeer's request by Charles-Valentin Alkan.
Before Oberthal's castle
Berthe explains to Fidès that she needs the Count's permission to marry Jean. The Anabaptists enter singing their chorale, Ad nos ad salutarem (to a tune created by Meyerbeer) and arouse the interest of local peasants in their revolutionary ideas. Oberthal refuses Berthe's request and arrests the two women.
Jean's inn at Leyden
The Anabaptists enter and try to persuade Jean that he is their destined leader. Berthe enters, fleeing Oberthal; the Count arrives and threatens to execute Jean's mother Fidès unless Berthe is returned to him. In despair, Jean hands over Berthe and succumbs to the lures of the Anabaptists.
The camp of the Anabaptists
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The Anabaptist trio resolve to hand over Jean to the Imperial armies to buy their own protection. Fidès encourages Jean to acknowledge her and his sins, and repent. Berthe enters intending to set fire to the palace. When she realises that Jean is the Prophet she has come to destroy, she commits suicide. Jean and Fidès determine to end the revolt; during the celebrations of his coronation, Jean sets off an explosion which brings the palace down on all who remain of the principal characters.