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date: 15 November 2019

Behold the Sun [Die Wiedertäufer (‘The Anabaptists’)]locked

  • Nicholas Williams

Extract

[Die Wiedertäufer (‘The Anabaptists’)]

Opera in three acts by Alexander Goehr to a libretto by John McGrath and the composer; Duisburg, Deutsche Oper am Rhein, 19 April 1985.

In 1534 two Dutch Anabaptist prophets, the idealistic Matthys (baritone) and the insidious Bokelson (tenor), preach news of the Second Coming and turn the prosperous city of Münster into the ‘City of God’. Inflamed by desire for a better world, the people cast aside material and sexual conventions. Their hope is expressed through the chorus (turba), while the historical forces are projected on to a small group of individuals, the Berninck family. As in Goehr’s Sonata about Jerusalem (1970), treating a similar subject, the outcome is a double betrayal of the collective dream: from within, by the people’s misplaced trust in the delusions of the megalomaniacal Bokelson; and from without, by the power of the establishment represented by the local Prince Bishop (baritone), for whom the Anabaptists’ disruption of traditional values is a dangerous source of social anarchy. Münster is finally recaptured, and the Anabaptists massacred. But in the work’s closing bars, the figure of Divara (soprano), emblematic of the pure messianic spirit, confirms the permanence of the flawed Utopian ideal....

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