Jakob Lenz

Chamber opera Text by Michael Fröhling based loosely on Georg Büchners Lenz Music by Wolfgang Rihm




SCENE 1 Lenz comes scrambling through the mountains, harried by voices. “You, spirit who lives within me! Whence do you come, that you hasten so? … Your shell cannot keep pace; its every sinew trembles. … No higher! …” He throws himself into the water. SCENE 2 Pastor Oberlin takes Lenz in. Lenz relays greetings from their mutual friend Kaufmann. Oberlin brings up Lenz’s literary works, but Lenz evades the topic. SCENE 3 Lenz passes a sleepless night. He is assailed by memories of Friederike, one of Goethe’s abandoned lovers, whom Lenz had also courted: “You, woman, too lovely for this earth, you child of the sun, you spirit of spring! When shall I find you, feel you again? You blessed, incomparable, heavenly one!” SCENE 4 Oberlin engenders in Lenz a kind of ecstatic nature worship. The voices signal hope: “Yield to the old illusion, / Dream the dreams of old, / See the rooms of the future / Laid open, all in gold.” SCENE 5 Lenz asks Oberlin to let him give a sermon. Stammering and screeching, Lenz overcomes his fear of speaking, but the congregation is untouched by his words. SCENE 6 Kaufmann arrives. He and Lenz have a conversation about art. Invoking “Brother Goethe,” Lenz argues for an unembellished artistic portrayal of reality: “God made the world, and it was excellent. We cannot slap together something better.” Kaufmann delivers an order from Lenz’s father for Lenz to come home. He refuses: “IMPOSSIBLE … I would rather be killed.” SCENE 7 Lenz flees into the mountains. He recalls some of his poems. The voices are soothing at first but then foretell the death of Friederike. Lenz wants to save her … SCENE 8 … and bursts into the parsonage in the middle of the night … SCENE 9 … then races back into the mountains, pursued by the voices, Friederike’s voice seeming to rise above the others … SCENE 10 … and arrives at last at the deathbed of a young girl. In despair, Lenz attempts to bring her back to life with the words of Jesus: “Arise, and walk!” He takes his failure as a sign that God has forsaken him. SCENE 11 “From now on the sun in mourning, / From now on dark the day!” The voices try to drive Lenz to suicide. SCENE 12 Oberlin and Kaufmann try again to convince Lenz to return home. Their consolation and their threats provoke him to another outburst. They put him in a straitjacket. SCENE 13 “Logical” is now the only word Lenz utters. Kaufmann and Oberlin depart.