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date: 18 November 2019

Arden must Die [ Arden muss sterben ]locked

  • Nicholas Williams

Extract

[ Arden muss sterben ]

Opera in two acts, op.21, by Alexander Goehr to a libretto by Erich Fried (English version by Geoffrey Skelton); Hamburg, Staatsoper, 5 March 1967.

The murder of Arden (bass), a prosperous businessman, is planned by his wife, Alice (mezzo-soprano), and her lover, Mosbie (tenor). Two landowners ruined by Arden, Greene (baritone) and Reede (bass), and two disaffected servants, Susan (soprano) and Michael (tenor), are also involved in the conspiracy. After three bungled attempts, the hired assassins Shakebag (tenor) and Black Will (bass) murder Arden at a reconciliation banquet arranged by him for his so-called friends. In the concluding court scene, Alice and Mosbie admit their guilt, while the others attempt to deny their complicity.

The libretto draws both on Holinshed’s account of the 1551 murder and on the anonymous 16th-century Arden of Faversham, translating its theme of guilt from the middle-class, Christian context of the original into the contemporary world of Brechtian epic theatre. The cuckolding of Arden, which is the source of discord and retribution, becomes no more than another incident in the game of power and possession played by all the characters. And in the courtroom scene, justice is shown to be unrelated not only to moral precept, but to any precepts whatsoever apart from those of self-interested gain – in which, by virtue of the intervention of Arden’s neighbour, Mrs Bradshaw (contralto), the audience also shares....

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