Major Operas | Elegy for Young Lovers by Hans Werner Henze | Modern Era

Composed: 1959–61
Premiered: 1961, Schwetzingen
Libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman

Act I

Hilda Mack recalls how her husband set out to climb the Hammerhorn 40 years ago. Dr Reischmann and Carolina, physician and secretary to the poet Gregor Mittenhofer, agree that no one thanks ‘the Servants of the Servant of the Muse’. Reischmann’s son Toni meets Mittenhofer’s mistress Elisabeth. Mittenhofer is fascinated by Hilda Mack’s coloratura premonition of a young couple’s death. Mauer, a guide, reports that a body, probably Hilda Mack’s husband, has been found. Toni is entranced by the way Elisabeth gently leads Hilda Mack towards an understanding. He remembers his dead mother. Now the crystal is broken Hilda Mack may return to life. Toni wishes to return to life through Elisabeth’s love.

Act II

Elisabeth wants to choose when to tell Mittenhofer about her love for Toni. Reischmann and Carolina attempt to dissuade them. Elisabeth asks Toni to take her away. Over breakfast Mittenhofer tells Carolina he already knows about the lovers. He describes to Elisabeth how difficult it is to be a poet. He asks only that she should tell him before she leaves. While she hesitates, Toni tells Mittenhofer, who asks the lovers to find an Edelweiss flower that will enable him to finish his new poem. Left alone he rages against them all: ‘Why don’t they die?’


Hilda says goodbye as the lovers leave for the Hammerhorn. Mittenhofer tells Carolina that his poem is an elegy. Mauer warns that a blizzard is coming, but Mittenhofer claims that no one is on the mountain. Toni and Elisabeth, caught in the blizzard, imagine the 40 years of married life they will be denied. They ask the God of Truth to forgive them and die together. Mittenhofer gives a public reading of his poem, but no words are heard.

Personalities | Hans Werner Henze | Modern Era | Opera


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