Der Protagonist, op. 15 (The Protagonist)
27 March 1926, Dresden Staatsoper, Josef Gielen, dir., Fritz Busch, cond.
For information about licensing this work for use, see our online guide
Set in Elizabethan England. As the ends, the curtain rises on a large hall in a country inn, and the Protagonist and the innkeeper enter. The Protagonist, leader of a troupe of actors, negotiates the rental of the hall for a series of performances for the local duke (). The Protagonist calls in his companions–his sister and his troupe–and he assigns roles to the actors and schedules the first rehearsal (). The ensuing conversation between the Protagonist and the Sister reveals his strong emotional dependence on her () and his philosophy of acting. He explains that he must lose himself in every role, and he begs her to visit him after that night’s performance (). As the actors warm up, the Protagonist sends an invitation to the duke. Then a young man enters to see the Sister–her lover. She is shocked to see him, but he is determined that they should reveal their relationship and get married, and she acquiesces (). She reproaches herself for a lack of honesty with her brother and fears that he will be angry to learn of her lover. Yet they decide to tell him after that night’s performance.
The Duke sends his servant to request light entertainment for the evening and mentions that some of his guests are foreigners, so the performance must be done in pantomime; he contributes his band of musicians to accompany the dumb show (). The Protagonist assigns parts to the other actors as they get ready to perform (). They will play a comedy (): a husband enjoys a tryst with a younger woman while a monk keeps his wife similarly occupied (). The rehearsal ends, and the Sister enters; she confesses that she has a lover, and the Protagonist insists on meeting him (), not convinced she is telling the truth. Then the Duke’s servant re-enters to say that one of tonight’s guests will be a bishop, so the Duke requires more solemn entertainment (). The Protagonist instructs the troupe to adapt the first pantomime into a tragedy, and they begin to rehearse (). In this version, the Protagonist plays a jealous cuckold. The rehearsal nears its climax, and he prepares to enact the killing of his wife. At that moment the Sister enters to tell him that her lover is here (). In a fit of madness and rage, only partly induced by his role, he stabs her in the neck and kills her. As the other actors call for help, the Protagonist recovers himself, only to ask the Duke’s servant to protect him from arrest until after that night’s performance, so the Duke can admire his masterly simulation of madness ().
Scene for mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, bass and wind instruments.