'I, the shepherd king, graze my flock.
Time means nothing to me, for in my heart it's summer:
a hot summer of my love burns in my soul,
ever since I first embraced that girl.
I go to the village to my sweet Iluska.
For my name is... my name is Johnny Corn!'
That is, John the Valiant. Sándor Petőfi's narrative poem, dubbed the 'Hungarian Odyssey' by the Hungarian author Dezső Kosztolányi, was first published 170 years ago. Exactly 60 years later, in 1904, the work inspired the creation of a dramatic musical work, a singspiel with the legendary Sári Fedák in the title role.
Now the work's parade of characters return to life on the stage of the Erkel Theatre.
At the end of the village the girls say goodbye to the hussars, who are about to join the army. Iluska, the most beautiful girl of the village ties the ribbon onto the three coloured flag. Poor Iluska is tormented to death by her stepmother: her simple happiness is in her love to Jancsi Kukorica, the brave herdsman. This happiness is soon over. The cruel stepmother hire the village field-guard to ride off Jancsi's cattle into the forbidden area, and when it happens Jancsi has to escape from the angry people and the punishment awaiting for him. He says goodbye to Iluska, joins the hussar army and go out into the world, but promises her lover not to forget her and returns for her even from a hundred deaths.
At the French court there is high sadness: the Turkish won the battle, the crown and country of the French king have been lost. Then Vitéz János (János hussar) - who has gained this name for his several heroic feats - comes with his heroic hussars and undertakes to save the country at the nice French princess' request. He sets off to war and chase away the Turks. The French king blessfully offers him half of the county and his daughter's hand. But János hussar - at everybody's surprise - refuses the princess' hand: he thinks of Iluska longs for her in his heart and soul. The sound of flute can be heard: a dusted, sad hussar arrives. Bagó, the trumpeter, brings the fringhtening news from Jancsi's village about Juliska, who is dead. The treatment of the cruel stepmother chased her to death. He brings a rose to Jancsi, which grew on Juliska's tomb. Jancsi - with broken heart, great pain - says goodbye to the French king's court and sets off to go with Bagó to look for their common lover Juliska even in death.
Jancsi and Bagó on their way arrive at the Lake of Life.The cruel stepmother, as an ugly witch attempts to entice Jancsi from the lake, but Jancsi from the fairies' song knows where he is and that he can find his lost Juliska here. He drops the rose grown on Juliska's tomb into the Lake of Life. There are flowers, roses growing and the fairies' empire appears, where Juliska is the queen of the fairies. The two lovers find each other happily and Juliska persuades Jancsi to stay in the World of Fairies as the king of the fairies. Jancsi agrees, but when the leaving Bagó's sad song can be heard from the flute, he cannot bear with himself and runs hometo his beautiful country, Hungary. Neither Iluska can stay, she is asked by the fairies in vain, She runs after her Jancsi, and together, embracing each other, arrive home connecting an everlasting love in the evening to the end of the village, to Juliska's well-known house. Bagó crying for his lost happiness is having a rest on the bank of the stream.