Die schöne Wunde

Year of composition
Opera in 2 parts
Georg Friedrich Haas
Text source
Franz Kafka: “Ein Landarzt”, Edgar Allan Poe: “The Pit and the Pendulum”
Georg Friedrich Haas; Isabel Herzfeld
Original Language: Deutsch

Gefangener, baritone
Landarzt, also: Die 7. weiße Kerze, bass
Soprano, also: Julia, Baucis, Die Schwester, Rosa Luxemburg II, Die 1. weiße Kerze
Mezzo-soprano, also: Rosa, Die Mutter, Rosa Luxemburg III, Die 2. weiße Kerze
Actress, also: Rosa Luxemburg, Lorenzina, Die 3. weiße Kerze
Countertenor, also: Romeo, Philemon, der kranke Knabe, Die 4. weiße Kerze
Tenor, also: Pferdeknecht, Der Alte, Die 5. weiße Kerze
Actor, also: Liebhaber, Die 6. weiße Kerze
5 S, 5 A, 4 T, 4 B, auch “Chor der Familie/Nachbarschaft des kranken Knaben”, “Chor der Richter”, “Chor der Ratten”
2 1 2 1 – 2 2 2 1 – perc(3), hp, acc, cel, pno, sax, vln(4), vla(2), vc(2), cb(1) – 8 musical extras (vc(5), cb(3))
Instrumentation details

2 1 2 1 – 2 2 2 1 – perc(3), hp, acc, cel, pno, sax, vln(4), vla(2), vc(2), cb(1) – 8 MusikstatistInnen (vc(5), cb(3))

für Alfred Wopmann

World Premiere

Location: Werkstattbühne Bregenz / Austria
Date: 14.08.2003
Orchestra: Klangforum Wien
Ensemble NOVA
Conductor: Sylvain Cambreling
Scenery: Hermann Feuchter
Main soloists: Georg Nigl – Gefangener, Johannes Schmidt – Landarzt, Melanie Walz – Sopran, Anette Stricker – Mezzosopran, Babett Arens – Schauspielerin, Kai Wessel – Countertenor, Alexander Kaimbacher – Tenor, Walter Raffeiner – Schauspieler
szenische Rauminstallation

Work introduction

Older than opera itself, the theme of Die schöne Wunde is Life and Death. But this time it is not the story of two people in their environs; the work deals with discrete actions, strands interwoven in a net of images.

Music carries the plot – music, the dramatically shaped temporal world of sounds. Two stories are central: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum and Franz Kafka’s Ein Landarzt [“A Country Doctor”], supported by tableaux vivants: episodes concerning love, sexuality and despair.

Poe’s story is about the expectation of death and the limitless despair of the ego anticipating death. The Inquisition is not directly thematic in the novella; no mention is made of why the prisoner is condemned, his tormenters and their motives are never mentioned – the first-person narrator is the helpless victim of anonymous machinery … the pendulum is a symbol of the times.

Death is also thematic in the Kafka story, dramatized by the fatally ill boy, who cannot be saved, even by the doctor’s love when he lies down next to him in bed. As opposed to Poe’s prisoner, the country doctor takes an active part in the situation – his horses take him to his destination (but not back again) – but ultimately he has no more effect on things than Poe’s prisoner: the prisoner remains passive, while the country doctor follows the “night-bell’s false alarm” [last line of the Kafka story – trans.].

Whereas these two narrative threads – which repeatedly affect each other thematically – contain a dynamic development which, although hopeless, is targeted, the tableaux vivants show static, immutable images. Their central themes are Love and eroticism; the dialogue between Romeo and Juliet (“It was the nightingale, not the lark …”) often recurs, each time in a completely different musical guise.
First of all, the dialogue is set in counterpoint with a very unambiguously sexual sonnet by Aretino, before instances in the text are filtered out, thus reinterpreting the sense: a scene of unfulfilled, yearning love, a scene of irretrievably lost love. Finally, the texts are quoted by the chorus of rats which, of course, only seem to liberate the prisoner.

Words from the The Song of Solomon are also set three times, representing Love as a metaphysical element. No dialogue ensues here; the lovers sing and speak the words independently to themselves, while the context makes it clear that metaphysics are united with sensuality. Initially, the texts are allocated (as usual) to Man and Woman, although sounds emerge from the second level which can be understood as those of sexual congress. Then Man and Man sing each other’s praises, as do Woman and Woman – but the final words are Pietro Aretino’s, an excerpt from an erotic sonnet.

The lonely, sequestered figure of Rosa Luxemburg appears in a monologue (letter) she wrote in moments of isolation. Her words demand action on the basis of all-encompassing Love and zest for life (“The world is so beautiful in all its horror”).

Some of the music in Die schöne Wunde is performed in complete darkness, an important aspect of the opera. The Prologue lasts only a few minutes before total blackness descends. The performers play by memory – their desks are not even illuminated – and without a conductor. The tableau vivant which produces sexually suggestive sounds and where the chorus sings words from The Song of Solomon are executed in complete darkness (a sequence lasting almost nine minutes).

There is a “crescendo of light” composed in the following scene (in which the prisoner realises that the pendulum is an instrument of torture). At first, the stage is barely lit; then the light gradually grows stronger and stronger until it becomes intolerably bright.

The players are placed around the audience in the first part of the opera, forming a sonic space of acoustically isolated points, also creating the effect of a swinging pendulum which also involves the audience; the sounds of the pendulum oscillate periodically, back and forth. At the end of the first part (Vision of Death) the “sonic space” begins to waver, ultimately becoming an eternally descending spiral. After the interval, the instrumentalists play from the left, right and behind the stage.

© Georg Friedrich Haas
Translation © 2012 by Grant Chorley

1 Ensemble that has played this work:

Klangforum Wien