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William Y. Elias

Opera in two acts (16 scenes) by Josef Tal to a libretto (in Hebrew) by Israel Eliraz; Hamburg, Städtische Oper, 9 November 1971 (in German).

Inspired by an ancient Talmudic legend, and an allegory about totalitarianism, the opera is set in an idyllic, peaceful country. The King (lyric baritone) hates the Queen (mezzo-soprano), whom he married only to prevent war with her father, and is in love with the Landlady (soprano). In Act 1, the devil Ashmedai (tenor) appears one night to the King and suggests that if he, Ashmedai, could rule as king for a year, he could turn the peace-loving citizens into bloodthirsty savages while the King could live happily with the Landlady. The King has such faith in his people that he agrees to the bet, but as soon as Ashmedai assumes the physical traits of the King and ascends the throne the citizens turn into intolerant, aggressive killers. A terrible war breaks out, causing total destruction. In Act 2, Ashmedai has won his bet, but the real King refuses to reclaim the throne because his faith in his people has been shattered. Ashmedai changes into a rooster and is devoured, unknowingly, by the Queen and her entourage. The King returns to his throne but refuses to continue the war, despite the advice of his Son (tenor), the commander of the army, and is lynched by the furious masses. Ashmedai appears to the people but they refuse to believe the truth. In an apocalyptic scene the physical world disintegrates, leaving only the King’s naked body with his anguished, faithful Daughter (soprano) leaning over him....



David Murray

Musikdrama in one act by Richard Strauss to Hedwig Lachmann’s German translation of Oscar Wilde’s play; Dresden, Hofoper, 9 December 1905.

After the mildly scandalous success of his second opera, Feuersnot, Strauss needed a new subject. Wolzogen, his collaborator on Feuersnot, worked hopefully at another raffish one-act comedy, drawn this time from Cervantes, but Strauss did nothing with it. Then a young Viennese poet sent him Wilde’s Salomé, proposing to adapt a libretto from it; the composer was cautiously interested (he imagined it, incredibly, as a possible pendant to Feuersnot). Though Wilde’s French original had been a failure in Paris, and in England the play was banned by the Lord Chamberlain, a German version had been well received in Breslau in 1901. Using a new translation, Max Reinhardt staged the play in Berlin the following year with spectacular success. Strauss saw it early in 1903 and swiftly decided to set this Lachmann version of the text as it stood, except for judicious trimming (mostly of subordinate clauses, though also of some marginal dialogue and one or two small roles). He began in earnest as he put the last touches to his ...