6 August 1966
6 August 1966 (1966-08-06)Salzburg
W. H. Auden, Chester Kallman
Elegy for Young Lovers, Boulevard Solitude, Der junge Lord, The English Cat, König Hirsch
Hans werner henze the bassarids 1965 1966 1 2
The Bassarids (in German: Die Bassariden) is an opera in one act and an intermezzo, with music by Hans Werner Henze to an English libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, after Euripides's The Bacchae.
- Hans werner henze the bassarids 1965 1966 1 2
- Hans werner henze the bassarids 1965 1966 2 2
- Performance history
Hans werner henze the bassarids 1965 1966 2 2
A noteworthy feature of the opera is its construction like a classical symphony in four 'movements':
Henze has noted that he quotes from Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion and the English Suite in D minor. Auden and Kallman wrote of changes that they made to the Euripides original for the purposes of this opera.
The first performance using the original English text, as well as the US premiere, was at Santa Fe Opera on 7 August 1968, with the composer conducting and a staging by director Bodo Igesz. The opera was also given in London on 22 September 1968, and was revived at English National Opera in October 1974, with the composer conducting.
In October 1990, two concert performances sung in the original English were given at Severance Hall in Cleveland, Ohio, by the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus with soloists Vernon Hartman, Kenneth Riegel, and, in the role of Agave, Anja Silja. Christoph von Dohnányi, who was married to Silja at the time, conducted. This same production was repeated at Carnegie Hall in November 1990 at the New York premiere of the music, which was attended by the composer.
In March 1968 The Bassarids was performed at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, conducted by Nino Sanzogno in an Italian translation by Fedele D'Amico.
The setting is ancient Thebes. Prior to the opera, Dionysus has stated that he intends to revenge himself upon Agave and the women of Thebes because they have denied his divinity.
At the start of the opera, Cadmus, King of Thebes, has abdicated his throne in favour of his grandson Pentheus. Pentheus has learned of the cult of Dionysus, which involves wild and irrational revelry. Pentheus plans to ban the cult from his city. A stranger arrives in town and seduces the citizens into increasingly frenetic celebration of the god Dionysus. Because Pentheus is unaware of his own irrational, "Dionysiac" impulses, or tries to suppress them, Dionysus can entrance Pentheus and intrude upon his nature to the point that Pentheus disguises himself as a woman, and goes to Mount Cytheron, where the revelry is occurring. In the course of events, the spell over the citizens extends to Agave, Pentheus' mother, and Autonoe, Pentheus' sister. Pentheus is killed and torn to pieces, and his city brought to ruin. Without realising it, Agave cradles the severed head of her son in her arms. The Stranger is revealed to be Dionysus himself.