Hans Werner Henze: Elegy for young lovers

Hans Werner Henze’s opera in three acts Elegie für junge Liebende was premiered on May 20, 1961, at the Schlosstheater in Schwetzingen by the ensemble of the Bavarian State Opera. The opera was commissioned by the Süddeutscher Rundfunk for the Schwetzingen Festival, and Henze approached librettists Wystan Hugh Auden and Chester Simon Kallman with the idea of “a psychologically highly nuanced chamber opera”. A German translation of the libretto was prepared by Ludwig Landgraf with the collaboration of Werner Schachteli and the composer. The action is set in the Austrian Alps in 1910, more precisely in the mountain inn “Schwarzer Adler”. At the center are the two young lovers Toni Reischmann and Elisabeth Zimmer, whose tragic death together in a snowstorm serves as material for the jealous poet Gregor Mittenhofer’s poem “Elegy for Young Lovers”. The music is characterized by a transparent and differentiated sound as well as by reminiscences of Italian opera and Schoenbergian Sprechgesang. The premiere, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Mittenhofer and Heinrich Bender as conductor, in a set by Helmut Jürgens, was praised as Henze’s “breakthrough to a musical language of his own”.

Photo credit: Archive Bavarian State Opera