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Die sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins)

Ballet chanté in nine scenes. Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht.

Work Details


35 minutes

First Performance

7 June 1933, Paris, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, George Balanchine, chor., Maurice Abravanel, cond.

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Available in Multiple Alternative Versions

See below under “Adaptations and Translations” or read here to learn more about the available alternate versions.

Anna I (who sings) and Anna II (who dances) are two facets of one personality. At the behest of her family, they travel to seven different American cities (only six are named) in order to make enough money to build a little house on the banks of the Mississippi. In each city, she/they encounter a different deadly sin, and Anna I (the practical side) rebukes Anna II (the artistic side) for engaging in sinful behavior–that is, behavior which hinders the accumulation of wealth.

Anna I sets out the plot, explaining the relationship between her and Anna II (“Actually, we’re not two persons, only one”) and their quest, and identifies the rest of the family: a mother, a father, and two brothers.

Anna’s parents note that she has always been lazy but in other ways has been a dutiful child, while the brothers intone, “Idleness is mother of all vices.” The Family closes with a prayer that God will keep Anna on the path that leads to prosperity and happiness.

Anna I and Anna II are in Memphis. Anna II’s new clothes have made her stuck up. When she takes a job as an exotic dancer, she tries to turn it into art, to the displeasure of the paying customers. Anna I scolds her for her pride and reminds her that she must do what is demanded of her.

The Family notes with displeasure that the Annas have not been sending enough money. They are in Los Angeles, and things are going quite well until Anna II witnesses acts of cruelty and rebels against injustice. Then Anna I reminds her that such anger will make her unemployable and therefore useless, so she must set it aside.

The family has received a letter from the Annas in Philadelphia. They are making good money, but Anna II’s contract specifies that she may not gain any weight, even a gram. They recall that Anna II loves to eat and acknowledge her hardship but trust her to remember that a contract is a contract.

In Boston, Anna II has found a wealthy lover, but she prefers another man, who is poor. Anna I points out that the rich lover will not tolerate divided loyalty. Anna II rebels, but finally gives in reluctantly and renounces the poor lover.

The Family learns that the Annas are in Baltimore. Men are committing suicide over Anna II, which will increase her earning power, but they fear she will get too greedy. They hope she will be moderate and not make herself too unpopular to earn money.

From San Francisco, Anna I tells us that Anna II is worn out and envious of those who do not have to work hard. Anna I preaches of the need to renounce the pleasures of the world and promises a reward to come. The Family seconds her, saying that strict self-control is the path to glory.

The Annas return to Louisiana after seven years. The house is complete, and they rejoin the Family.

  • Introduktion
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  • Faulheit (Sloth)
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  • Stolz (Pride)
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  • Zorn (Wrath)
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  • Völlerei (Gluttony)
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  • Unzucht (Lust)
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  • Habsucht (Covetousness)
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  • Neid (Envy)
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  • Finaletto
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  • Cast

    • Singing Roles

      • Anna I (soprano)
      • The Family (2 tenors, baritone, bass)
    • Non-Singing Roles

      • Anna II (dancer)
      • Corps de ballet
  • Instrumentation

    • 2 Flutes (2 picc)
    • Oboe
    • 2 Clarinets
    • Bassoon
    • 2 French horns
    • 2 Trumpets
    • Trombone
    • Tuba
    • Harp
    • Piano
    • Banjo (guitar)
    • Timpani, percussion
    • Strings

Piano-vocal score
(German-English), B. Schott’s Söhne, 6005

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