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date: 10 August 2020

We Come to the Riverlocked

  • Andrew Clements


‘Actions for music’ in two parts (11 scenes) by Hans Werner Henze to a libretto by Edward Bond; London, Covent Garden, 12 July 1976.

Henze’s seventh full-length opera, commissioned by the Royal Opera, is much closer to his highly politicized music-theatre works of the early 1970s – The Raft of ‘The Medusa’, El Cimmaron, Der langwierige Weg in die Wohnung der Natascha Ungeheuer – than to his preceding work for the opera house The Bassarids (1965). The ‘actions for music’ unfold on a bare stage divided into three acting areas, each with its own chamber orchestra, on which scenes may be presented simultaneously.

The story concerns a General (baritone) in an imaginary empire, celebrating his triumph in the bloody suppression of a rebellion. As he dictates a report of his victory to the Emperor, his soldiers celebrate their fortune (scene i). A Deserter (tenor) is brought before the General (scene ii); while the organist plays choral fantasies on Hassler’s ‘Herzlich tut mich verlangen’ he is sentenced to be executed. As he waits in the condemned cell, telling his guards of his childhood and of the panic that overwhelmed him on the battlefield, the General is being fêted at a ball; the local people salute him and Rachel (soprano) sings an extravagant aria in A♭ major (‘Hail Liberator’) in his praise. While the sounds of mazurkas and waltzes continue from the ball the General returns to his tent to be told by the Doctor (bass-baritone) that he is suffering from an incurable condition that will lead to total blindness. As he forces himself to return to his desk, the celebrations have turned into an orgy, to the strains of the ...

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