Sancta Susanna / Eine florentinische Tragödie

Alexander Zemlinsky
Paul Hindemith

Conductor: Karsten Januschke
State Opera Chorus and Orchestra

Performed in a concert version in the German original and with Czech surtitles. The project is part of the Musica non grata Concluding Weekend. By purchasing a programme package, you will receive a 20% discount.

Dates

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Sat 06/04/2024
7.00 pm
Praha, Státní opera
#premiere
#dramaturgical introduction
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Sancta Susanna
Music: Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)
Libretto: August Stramm (1874–1915)

In June 1921, a huge uproar was engendered in Stuttgart by the premiere of two one-act operas by the then 25-year-old, Hanau-born, composer Paul Hindemith: Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (Murderer, The Hope of Women; 1919), to Oskar Kokoschka’s libretto based on his eponymous play, and Das Nusch-Nuschi (The Nusch-Nuschi; 1920), to Franz Blei’s libretto. An equal furore was stirred by the first performance, on 26 March 1922 in Frankfurt, of another Hindemith one-acter, Sancta Susanna, to August Stramm’s libretto, written within a mere two weeks in late January and February 1921. Depicting the story of a nun descending into sexual frenzy and subsequently being mercilessly denounced by her Sisters, the opera reflects the composer’s embracing Expressionism, as manifested both in the theme and musical principles, reaching the very limits of tonality. In 1922, the renowned critic and aesthetician Theodor W. Adorno wrote of Sancta Susanna: “It is remarkable how here, in the most mature of his stage works, Hindemith concurrently creates the thematic surging of the orchestral torrent, wide-arching vocal melodies, the spring night’s sultriness and the sheer cataclysmic might out of this single fundamental force condensed into a  sensual and plastic solid form which his hands transform into a symbol of animal instincts.” 

The opera tells the story of Susanna, a young nun whose erotic fantasies are aroused by hearing a tale of Sister Beata, who one night, when “the wind sang and flowers pounded”, stripped naked, embraced and kissed Christ on the Cross. As punishment, she was bricked up alive behind the altar. Susanna, no longer capable of abstaining, disrobes and discards her veil. A large black spider falls into her hair. Entranced, Susanna refuses to repent and demands that the nuns punish her:  “Stones lie beyond the courtyard! Build me a wall!” 

The world premiere of Sancta Susanna was conducted by Ludwig Rottenberg, who would later become Hindemith’s father-in-law. Fritz Busch, who had conducted the opening night of Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen and Das Nusch-Nuschi, refused to perform the opera due to its blasphemous content. The Neues deutsches Theater in Prague presented all three operas on 3 March 1923. Directed by Louis Laber, the production was conducted by Alexander Zemlinsky. The State Opera in Prague will host Sancta Susanna in concert, in the German original and with Czech surtitles. The performance will be conducted by Karsten Januschke, who has worked at the Wiener Staatsoper, the Theater an der Wien, the Los Angeles Opera and other renowned companies, as well as the Bayreuther Festspiele, and has recently debuted to acclaim at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, the Semperoper in Dresden and elsewhere. 

Eine florentinische Tragödie 
Music: Alexander Zemlinsky (1871–1942)
Libretto: Max Meyerfeld (1875–1940), based on an unfinished play by Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)

Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine Tragedy) ranks among the most remarkable operas of the first half of the 20th century. Its world premiere, on 30 January 1917 in Stuttgart, was a resounding success. In the wake of the first performance, the critics referred to Zemlinsky’s fourth opera as a “glowing tone painting, the likes of which has not been seen since Strauss’s Salome”. The work is based on the unfinished drama A Florentine Tragedy by Oscar Wilde (whose play Salome served as the basis for Strauss’s opera), of which merely the first Act (published in 1893) is available. The reason why the author failed to complete the piece was that for two years (1895–1897) he was imprisoned following his being convicted of “gross indecency” with regard to his sexual relationship with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. At the time, the fragment of Wilde’s play stirred the senses of several celebrated music figures, including Giacomo Puccini, Ferruccio Busoni and Sergei Prokofiev (the 1911 opera Maddalena). In Eine florentinische Tragödie, Zemlinsky diverged from the fairy-tale inspirations that had served him in the case of his first three operas, Sarema (1897), Es war einmal (Once Upon a Time, 1900) and Der Traumgörge (Görge the Dreamer, 1905–1906). Set in Renaissance Florence, the one-hour fresco about jealousy, depicting the thrilling story of the merchant Simone, his wife Bianca and her lover, the young Prince Guido Bardi, features a plethora of dramatic twists and turns, and a somewhat  surprising denouement. 

The role of Guido Bardi in the world premiere in Stuttgart was performed by the Czech-born Austrian tenor Rudolf Ritter. Simone was portrayed by the German baritone Felix Fleischer-Janczak, Bianca by the Austrian soprano Helene Wildbrunn, a renowned Wagnerian singer.  Alexander Zemlinsky presented his opera Eine florentinische Tragödie at the Neues deutsches Theater in Prague on 4 March 1917, directed by Fritz Bondy. On 27 April 1917, it was staged at the Wiener Hofoper. Zemlinsky would draw inspiration from Wilde again: in 1919, he wrote the opera Der Zwerg, based on the short story The Birthday of the Infanta. The State Opera in Prague will perform a concert version of Eine florentinische Tragödie, in the German original and with Czech surtitles. 

Conductor: Karsten Januschke
State Opera Chorus and Orchestra

Eine florentinische Tragödie
Simone, a merchant: Joachim Goltz
Bianca, his wife: Corinna Scheurle
Guido Bardi, Prince of Florence: Josef Moravec

Sancta Susanna
Susanna: Tamara Morozová
Klementia: Lucie Hilscherová
Old Nun: Milena Stričević
Servant: Benjamín Hájek
Maid: Kristina Kubová

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