Babylon

Opera in seven tableaus (2012/2019)

Jörg Widmann’s »Babylon« deals with the boundaries of language, and indeed of linguistic confusion. The composer places the multicultural society of the pre-ancient, culturally advanced metropolis of Babylon at the centre of his opera. It is not only the Babylonians who move between chaos and order, but also the Jewish exile Tammu, who forsakes his erstwhile love, the Soul, to turn instead to the Babylonian priestess of war and free love, Inanna.

When a human sacrifice is called for to appease the gods who once punished the people of Babylon with the Flood, the Priest-King chooses Tammu. After Tammu is executed, Inanna decides to go down into the underworld to convince its ruler, Death, to allow her lover to return to the world of the living. Finally, a new covenant is made between the gods and the people, and order is – at least temporarily – restored.
Widmann’s musical score is a lush tonal kaleidoscope of the heterogeneous society of Babylon, a fascinating collage in which a broad variety of timbres, tonal scenes, and sound structures collide. The work makes numerous references to musical history and familiar subjects, including Mozart’s »Magic Flute«. An opera in Cinemascope, which had its world premiere in Munich in 2012 and is now coming to the stage in a new version.

Dates

Medien

plot

PRELUDE AMONG THE REMAINS OF A DEVASTATED CITY
Among the ruins of a destroyed building, the Scorpion-Man curses urban civilization. The sound of seven shofars recalls the destruction of Jericho.

FIRST TABLEAU: IN THE WALLS OF BABYLON
The soul, a stranger in the Babylonian world, mourns its loneliness. It was once closely bound to its “brother” Tammu. The Jewish exile Tammu moves between the cultures. He struggles with his feelings of love for the Babylonian Inanna, a priestess who is the stand-in for the eponymous love goddess of sexual freedom. Inanna succeeds in dispelling Tammu’s doubts in her faithfulness and gives him a drug that allows him to learn the “truth” of Babylon and love in his dreams.

SECOND TABLEAU: THE GREAT FLOOD AND THE TERROR OF THE PLANETS
In a dream, Tammu experiences the horrors of the Babylonian flood. The Planet Septet reports of the catastrophe that changed the world. The River Euphrates, which then turned into a destructive sea, cries out to the heavens over this injustice: why was nearly all life extinguished?
The Priest-King names himself the new protector and lawgiver for the Babylonians. To prevent the Flood from ever returning, sacrifices are required. The annual sacrifice of human being is intended to make the gods merciful.

THIRD TABLEAU: THE NEW YEAR’S CELEBRATION  
Tammu hears the voice of Inanna, but he is not able to understand. The Babylonians are celebrating an orgiastic carnival. The excessive celebration is interrupted by the congregation of Jewish exiles that have come together to allow the Holy Scripture to emerge. Once again, Tammu seems himself confronted with the question of his true belonging.

FOURTH TABLEAU: AT THE WATERS OF BABYLON  
The prophet Ezekiel dictates his divine inspirations to the scribe. When Ezekiel speaks of the Flood, Tammu finds himself in conflict with the prophet and leader of the Jews, accusing him of just adapting the Babylonian narrative of the Flood. Tammu’s objections are ignored; instead Ezekiel underscores the distinction made between the peoples by the Word of God. He continues the story of the Flood and the Ark of Noah, but with a decisive change: instead of his own son, Noah sacrifices animals to thank God for his survival. God then promised to never again curse the earth.
A messenger from the Babylonians announces that Tammu is to be sacrificed to the gods. The Priest-King has Tammu, who without success tries to defend himself, taken prisoner.

Intermission

FIFTH TABLEAU: THE SACRIFICE  
The ritual of sacrifice is prepared. The Priest-King refers to the distinction between believers and non-believers. He undergoes a ritual of penance and has himself slapped by a priest, confirming him in his office. While Tammu is sacrificed by the Babylonians, the Jewish exiles lament: one group cries out to the heavens over this injustice, while another group curses Babylon.

SIXTH TABLEAU: INANNA IN THE UNDERWORLD
Inanna is stunned by the death of her beloved and decides to go to the underworld to convince “Sister Death” to free Tammu. Walking through the seven gates of hell, gradually all her jewels and clothing are removed, so in the end she stands naked and helpless before Death. Inanna convinces Death, who has become exhausted and tired of her never-changing task, and leads Tammu from the underworld.

SEVENTH TABLEAU: THE NEW RAINBOW
Inanna and Tammu are reunited. A new covenant is made between heaven and earth. The Rainbow Septet announces a new order for the human age that united all peoples. With the seven-day week, each God in Babylon is given his own day. A child reminds the people to not delegate their own responsibility to the gods. The soul dissolves in a light that is to shine for all in future.

POSTLUDE: THE CONSTELLATION OF THE SCORPION  
Among the ruins, the Scorpion Man reflects on his thoughts and stings himself. Two children sing a counting rhyme.

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