Babylon - Synopsis

Babylon: Willard White (Priesterkönig), Statisterie Babylon: Ensemble, Chor und Statisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper Babylon: Anna Prohaska (Inanna), Tim Kuypers, Tareq Nazmi (Pförtner)


Jörg Widmann
Libretto by Peter Sloterdijk


Prologue: In front of the remains of the walls of a devastated town in the old Orient

The last surviving creature moves about on the ruins of a town wall: a scorpion-man curses the utopia of urban civilisation. The reverberation of a distant procession reminds us of the fatal effect of the trumpets of Jericho.

Scene 1: In the walls of Babylon

The soul is alone. Deserted by her most trusty follower, Tammu, she mourns her fate in the land of impossibility. Tammu who, like his fellow Jews, is living in exile in Babylon, is a border crosser. He is the confidant of the priest king of Babylon and moves between two worlds. Ever since he set eyes on the beautiful Babylonian priestess Inanna, however, he has not been the same man.

Torn between the soul and Inanna, Tammu succumbs to the sexual power of the latter who, as the priestess of the goddess of the same name, personifies free love. She dispels his doubts with the help of a parable, teaches him her song, which becomes a mutual promise, and finally gives Tammu a drug which allows him to dream „the truth“: that is, what love is in Babylon and what this town is founded on.

Scene 2: The Horrors of the Flood and the Terror of the Planets

Tammu is dreaming. While Inanna makes love to him, Tammu experiences in his mind’s eye the Babylonian flood with all its horror. The Seven Planets report on all the devastating events and the accompanying break with everything known till then. The Euphrates rises and accuses Heaven of having gone too far: it was one thing to have to decimate people occasionally but a flood which destroyed everything and which it had to carry on its shoulders was going too far.

As the weather finally clears up the priest king proclaims the new world order. It is based on a strict practice of sacrifice. The precarious relationship between mankind and the gods has been restored.

Scene 3: The New Year Celebrations

Near the Tower of Babel Tammu is looking for Inanna, hears the voices of Inanna and the soul, but cannot place them. An orgy with carnival-like hustle and bustle, processions, performances and oracles begins around him. Statues of gods are carried through the streets of the town, people with animal heads appear as do the Seven Phalloi and the Seven Vulvae, all kinds of people and seven apes. Inanna and the scorpion-man perform the song of creation. The Jewish community tries meanwhile to concentrate on the revelations of Ezekiel.

Scene 4: By the Waters of Babylon

In front of the assembled Jewish community Ezekiel dictates the Word of God to the scribe as he receives it. They have reached the point where Noah, having survived the flood, is preparing to thank the gods for his survival with a sacrifice. Tammu, who has experienced the Babylonian version of the flood in his dream, objects and argues with Ezekiel about the originality of his prophetic inspirations. Ezekiel wants to get on; he has already been stuck for too long at a difficult point. He decides on a censured version: Noah does not sacrifice his son but animals. As a result, God abandons for ever his plan to curse the earth.

The messenger from the Babylonians announces that Tammu has been selected to be the person to be sacrificed at the impending Babylonian ritual. The priest king, who loves him like his own son, is to sacrifice Tammu.

Intermezzo: The Idyll of Babylon – Night music for the Hanging Gardens

In her loneliness, the soul sees the stars, the moody powers of the Heavens, as signs of the solemn and native light.

Scene 5: The Celebration of the Sacrifice

The climax of the New Year celebrations is approaching. On the festival ground in front of the Tower the myth of the creation of the world is being performed with the priest king in the role of the god Marduk. According to the legend, Marduk created from the dragon Tiamat, which had been killed with a bow and arrow, two parts, Heaven and Earth.

Preparations for the ritual sacrifice are being made on the upper platform of the Tower.

A group of wailing Jews and a group of cursing Jews protest to Heaven, but they are unable to stop Tammu being sacrificed. In accordance with the ritual, the priest king sacrifices Tammu hidden from view.

It is not only the soul which doubts the sense of the sacrifice, Tammu’s Babylonian mistress Inanna cannot endure the death of her lover either. Their sadness unites the two women in a similar way their love for Tammu has previously. Their willingness to cross a further boundary becomes apparent.

Scene 6: Inanna in the Underworld

Inanna wants to bring Tammu back to life and loudly approaches the great gate of Hell accompanied by an entourage of palace prostitutes and harlots from the city of Babylon. With desperate determination she manages to make Death allow her to enter the underworld.

The gatekeepers take one item of the insignia of her power or a piece of her clothing from her at each of the seven gates. She stands naked and defenceless in front of Death and announces her hopeless request. The exception of her love stands in opposition to the rule of Death. Exhausted, Death decides in favour of the exception in order to demonstrate his power: he sends Tammu back into the world with Inanna. Inanna must not lose sight of her lover on the way back to the gate.

Scene 7: The new Rainbow

Tammu returns to life, the priest king has forfeited his authority to create order: there must be a new contract between Heaven and Earth. The septet of the Seven Planets appears as a fragmented rainbow septet. It announces that the week will be the new order for human time, which will unite all peoples and will bow down before the order of Heaven, the Seven Planets and give every god living in Babylon his day. Finally the soul dissolves into light. Tammu and Inanna fly away in a space ship. The Tower collapses with a din.

Epilogue: The Constellation of Scorpius

In the new, old ruins of an oriental town the scorpion-man meets his own astonishment.

He himself is the object of his reflection; he stings himself, doubles himself, the doubled halves divide again and again.