Dafne (Tragikomödie in einem Akt) (2005)

(Libretto: Benjamin Schweitzer based on Martin Opitz‘ „Dafne“ (1627)


Dafne ([Mezzo]Soprano), Venus (Soprano), Cupido ([Mezzo]Soprano), Apollo (Baritone), Ovid (Speaker)

Ensemble: 1 (Picc/Bassfl)-0-Bkl(Tsax)-0, Zink*-0-0-1-0, Timp.Perc (1 Sp.), Chitarrone*, Strings 1-0-1-1-1

*Zink may be replaced by trumpet in C / Chitarrone may be replaced by harp

Commissioned by the Konzerthaus Berlin

Publisher: Schott Music

Duration: ca. 30′

WP (concert):
April 3, 2006, St. Elisabeth’s Church Berlin, Festival zeitfenster – Biennale Alter Musik

Sylvia Nopper (Dafne), Herman Wallén (Apollo), Ksenia Lukic (Venus), Katia Guedes (Cupido), Vocalconsort Berlin, Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin
Cond.: Titus Engel

WP (stage):
November 25, 2009
Mittelsächsisches Theater Freiberg
Direction: Judica Semler
Conductor: Jan M. Horstmann


The famous Dafne-Libretto of the German baroque poet Martin Opitz can be read interpreted in several ways. Being a medley of the classical original and its adaptations, Opitz‘ additions, it bears comical, tragical and parable-like features. The text changes between witty, rapid dialogues, touching scenes and quite strenuously constructed comments and allusions to the feudal wedding; huge parts of it are unfeasible as opera libretto at least according to today’s conventions. What should, what can a composer of the 21st century do with that?

First of all, it is especially this – not only chronological – distance that sparks interest. A text from an era during which music theatre originated, being maybe more experimental than in the following centuries. A language that requires a historical dictionary to be understood, but whose power, opulence and originality is immediately fascinating. Double bottoms that loom beneath a superficially frugal story and characters. A choir that adds clumsy comments to the events, pointing out their deeper meaning.

But when thinking about the historical circumstances – the situation in Germany during the first decade of the Thirty Years‘ War – one cannot avoid to consider the dark side of this strange play of gods and shepherds, written to entertain a feudal wedding party. Thus, my version varies between ironically tracing the comical keynote of the dialogues and the break-through of the peril: the tempestuous love for Dafne that captures Apollo, driving him crazy and killing Dafne in the end, and the ominous „wild beast“, that Opitz uses metaphorically for the war that lurks everywhere.

As Opitz‘ libretto – also in his own assessment – is not on the same level as his other works, I decided to use passages taken from his other works for the key sections of the drama. Each of these sections of the libretto is doubled by a second version based on Opitz‘ poems: the final chorus with its echo-effects corresponds with the shepherds‘ scene, Apollo’s lament appears twice, and the insensitive chorus of the crowd after Dafne’s death (O schöne Nymfe frewe dich) is countered by a deeply-felt orbituary of two soprano soloists. Even Ovid, serving as a kind of ‚emcee‘ in Opitz‘ version, has a second appearance with much more critical text (from Trostgedichte in Widerwertigkeit des Krieges), and as cuckoo’s egg, there is Cupido‘s mocking song on enamoured gods with a pseudo-baroque poem by Arno Holz.

The dramatic structure follows this idea of doubling: the whole story is practically told twice, once close to the original libretto and in a tone that suggests, all this could as well be just playing act; but then – with Dafne’s death – follows an instrumental interlude entitled ‚Verwandlungsmusik‘, and the second part, though based on the same storyline, is anything else but comedy. The pivotal scene is the core dialogue between Dafne and Apollo that appears almost identical in both parts – once accompanied with strings, then arranged for winds –, in which only subtle differences in the vocal and instrumental parts mark the border between „well acted“ and „real“.

The instrumental ensemble plays an important, partly independent role. Apart from two longer instrumental sections, there are several solo passages (percussion, theorbo, contrabass, saxophone), and especially in the scenes that are occupied by a reduced line-up, the ‚personalities‘ of the instruments are almost on a par with the ones on the stage. The ‚doubled‘ structures appear in many references and quotations, especially in passages that turn up again in newly arranged versions at different points of the composition. For example, the contrabass solo at the beginning of the second part is based on the partly improvisational opening solo of the percussionist, the ‚Ouverture‘ anticipates the course of the entire work, and the sound and musical gestures of the ‚Verwandlungsmusik‘ reappears in the choir sections of the second part, in the end becoming the dominant sound that contrasts the exhilarated textures of the beginning.