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Der Silbersee Ein Wintermärchen (1932-33)

Play with music, in three acts.
Book and lyrics by Georg Kaiser.

Performance Information
Song List

Photo from original production

Olim's castle, from the original production, Leipzig, 1933.

Performance Information

English title: The Silver Lake, A Winter's Tale
Cast: Singing roles -- Olim (baritone), Severin (tenor), Frau von Luber (mezzo-soprano), Fennimore (soprano), Baron Laur (tenor), Lottery Agent (tenor), Four Comrades of Severin (two baritones, two basses), Two Shopgirls (sopranos), chorus, SATB.
Speaking roles -- a fat policeman, an old doctor, a young doctor, a nurse, a servant, people.
Orchestra: 2 (2 picc).1.2.1;; piano, harp, timp; strings.
Duration: full evening, 70 minutes music
Published Editions: piano-vocal score, Universal Edition, UE 10464
Performance Rights and Rentals: USA, UK, BREV: EAMC
All other territories: FBE/UE
Authorized Translations: English -- Jonathan Eaton
First Production: February 18, 1933, Leipzig, Altes Theater, Detlef Sierck, dir., Gustav Brecher, cond. (simultaneous premieres in Magdeburg and Erfurt)

Guide to orchestration, territory abbreviations, and publishers' symbols.


Act I

Two young men are digging a grave on the shores of the Silver Lake ("Gräbst du?"). It is late autumn, and everyone is hungry. Severin and two other men join them, bearing an effigy of Hunger, which they place in the grave ("Wir tragen den Toten zu Grabe"). They continue to talk longingly of food ("Der Bäcker backt ums Morgenrot"). The scene shifts to a grocery store, where two shopgirls are working. As they stock the shelves, Severin and the other men approach; since there are no customers, they decide to rob the store. As they prepare to enter, the shopgirls lament their lot ("Wir sind zwei Mädchen"). Severin leads the group inside and the other men fill their packs, but Severin delays the getaway because he covets a pineapple. One of the shopgirls runs into the street for help. Not far away, two policemen patrol a country road. Severin and his group approach on the run. When they see the police they dive into a ditch to discuss strategy, and they decide to act casual. They stroll by, but pursuers have followed them and alert the police. The two policemen draw their guns and one of them, Olim, fires, hitting Severin in the leg. Later, in the police station, Olim has an attack of conscience, and the Chorus asks if he regrets the shooting ("Melodram"). A lottery agent enters and informs Olim that he has won the grand prize ("Was zahlen Sie für einen Rat?"), and the Chorus returns to ask Olim what he intends to do ("Melodram"). He tears up his report and resolves to help Severin, who is delirious in the hospital. Olim tells the doctor that Severin can go free, and he convinces Severin, now somewhat improved, to come with him ("Was soll ich essen in der Morgenfrühe?"), although Severin does not realize that Olim shot him.

Act II

In front of Olim's castle. A young lady named Fennimore enters and announces that her aunt, Frau von Luber, has sent for her ("Ich bin eine arme Verwandte"). Frau von Luber, whom Olim has hired to run his newly purchased castle, instructs Fennimore to pay careful attention to Olim and to worm his secrets out of him. Meanwhile, Olim is pleased to learn that Fennimore plays the harp. That evening, Fennimore sings and plays at dinner ("Rom hieß eine Stadt"), but the song does not find favor, so she comes to the table, takes two bananas from the fruit bowl and makes them dance, à la Chaplin. But Severin is transfixed by a pineapple in the fruit bowl and slashes it in a sudden rage, then recovers his reason entirely and announces that he longs to revenge himself on the policeman who shot him ("Erst trifft dich die Kugel"). The next morning, Olim pays an early visit to Frau von Luber, tells her the whole story, and swears her to secrecy. She treacherously offers to help by taking over the management of the castle entirely, and she takes the keys from him. Meanwhile, after the previous night's debacle, von Luber has ordered Fennimore to leave. Severin, now much improved physically, asks Fennimore to take a message to his friends by the Silver Lake ("Auf jener Strasse"). But instead, she leads them all back to the castle; they have learned that the man who shot him is named Olim. Severin's suspicions are now aroused, and the inquisition that follows reveals that Severin was indeed Olim's victim. Severin must be restrained as Olim flees up the stairs.


Frau von Luber seeks out Olim in his hiding place in a tower room and tells him that Severin is searching for him. She offers to keep him concealed and fed, on the condition that he sign a document, which he does without reading it. Then Frau von Luber exits with the key to Olim's hiding place, and he realizes he is trapped. Severin's friends have chained him up in the cellar ("Odysseus an den Mast des Schiffes"), so that he can resist his urge to kill Olim. The friends leave, and Frau von Luber enters and offers him the key to Olim's room. But Severin has had a change of heart and no longer wants to kill Olim. Frau von Luber locks him in as he pleads for a chance to beg Olim's forgiveness. In the dining room, Frau von Luber entertains her friend, Baron Laur, as Fennimore looks on. They torment Fennimore, demanding that she dance for them ("Totentanz") as they revel and laugh over the plight of Olim and Severin ("Es wächst uns in den Mund der Wein"). Fennimore unobtrusively makes off with the keys and liberates Olim and Severin, who enter the dining room and reconcile, but Frau von Luber reveals that when Olim signed her document earlier, he gave her the castle. Despite Olim's protests, he and Severin are evicted on a cold, stormy night. They stumble towards the Silver Lake, and in despair they decide to drown themselves. As they approach, they begin to hear otherworldly sounds; then they see that spring has come to the landscape, while the lake remains frozen. They step onto it and walk away together as the Chorus sings ("Alles was ist, ist beginnen").

Song list

Gräbst du?
Wir tragen den Toten zu Grabe
Der Bäcker backt ums Morgenrot (Severin und vier Burschen)
Wir sind zwei Mädchen (Song der beiden Verkäuferinnen)
Was zahlen Sie für einen Rat? (Krone des Gewinns or Tango des Lotterie-Agents)
Was soll ich essen in der Morgenfrühe?
Ich bin eine arme Verwandte (Fennimores Lied)
Rom hiess eine Stadt (Ballade von Cäsars Tod)
Erst trifft dich die Kugel (Rache-Aria)
Auf jener Strasse
Wie Odysseus an den Mast des Schiffes
Es wächst uns in den Mund der Wein (Schlaraffenland-Song)
Alles was ist, ist beginnen


Nonesuch DB-79003 New York City Opera, Julius Rudel, cond. (English adaptation)
Capriccio CD 60 011-2 Wolfgang Schmidt, Hans Korte, Hildegard Heichele, Eva Tamassy, Pro Musica Köln, König Ensemble, Kölner Rundfunkorchester, Jan Latham-König, cond.
RCA Red Seal CD 09026-63447-2 Heinz Kruse, HK Gruber, Juanita Lascarro, London Sinfonietta, Markus Stenz, cond.


Also see Sechs Stücke aus Der Silbersee, Suite from Der Silbersee (arr. Salomon), and Silbersee-Gesänge (arr. Drew).