Die Bassariden - Further information
Hans Werner Henze
Wystan Hugh Auden, Chester Kallman nach Euripides
World première on August 6, 1966 at the Großes Festspielhaus, Salzburg
One basic human conflict is the eternal contest between reason and impulse as exemplarily portrayed by Euripides in ‘The Bacchae’.
Dionysus, god of wine, has come to Thebes and demands submission. King Pentheus, an ascetic advocate of discipline and obedience, prohibits this ecstatic cult but cannot resist climbing the mount Kytheron, where Dionysus’ followers render homage to him. There Pentheus is discovered and torn apart by his raging mother Agaue and her sister Autonoe.
The librettists W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman interpreted Euripides’ nearly 2500 year old drama with the knowledge and experience of the modern age. They supplemented the mythological story line by introducing Christian themes like Dionysus’ ascension in the final act and by psychoanalytical motivation. The latter becomes particularly evident in the intermezzo, ‘The Judgement of Calliope’, which allegorically illustrates Pentheus’ inner turmoil.
Consciously rejecting the prevailing avant-garde of the time, Hans Werner Henze has enriched the operatic theatre since the 1950s with extraordinarily diverse musical works. ‘The Bassarids’, first performed in 1966 as a commission by the Salzburg Festival, is a deep and thorough examination of the through-composed music drama. Referring to the symphony, the classical form of musical confrontation, Henze creates two musical worlds which he attributes to these two polar opposites. However, Henze is not interested in taking sides or in simplistic models of explanation. The composer believes: ‘In every human lives a Pentheus and a Dionysus.’