Besuch der alten Dame, Der (‘The Visit of the Old Lady’)
- Erik Levi
Opera in three acts by Gottfried von Einem to a libretto by Friedrich Dürrenmatt after his tragicomedy; Vienna, Staatsoper, 23 May 1971.
Dürrenmatt’s play takes place in Güllen, a small dilapidated town somewhere in central Europe. Town dignitaries await the arrival at the station of Claire Zachanassian (mezzo-soprano), a multi-millionairess who has returned to her native town to buy revenge for the injustices of her youth, when she was deserted by her lover, Alfred Ill (high baritone), and cheated in the courts. Claire meets Ill and they reminisce. Ill tries to justify his action of having left her after she became pregnant. He bemoans his present situation and wishes to turn the clock back. At an official reception Claire promises the community a billion marks, but demands the murder of Ill in return. She summons up witnesses who claim that Ill had jilted her for a better match and had evaded the legal consequences of fatherhood by means of bribery. The citizens remain unconvinced of Ill’s guilt at this stage. Nevertheless, the prospect of receiving vast sums of money encourages them to run up huge debts. Ill realizes to his dismay that he is being trapped. He seeks consolation from the Vicar (bass-baritone) and tries to escape. The citizens, however, prevent him from leaving Güllen. Claire, meanwhile, marries her ninth groom in the cathedral. The Doctor and the Teacher (both baritones) try to persuade her to change her mind about Ill, but she rejects their entreaties. The Lord Mayor (Heldentenor) visits Ill and suggests that the community would be saved if he committed suicide. However, Ill has now overcome his fear of death and demands that judgment should be given by his fellow citizens. Eventually the citizens congregate in the local theatre and decide, in the presence of the press, to accept Claire’s money. Ill respects their decision and the judgment is carried out. Claire allows him to be put into the coffin which she has brought with her. She hands the mayor a cheque and the townspeople burst into an orgiastic dance....