A play with music
Music by Daniel F. E. Auber, Franz von Suppé et al.
Premiere: Thursday, 18 October 2018, 7.30 pm until 9.10 pm (Intermission: 8.10 pm)
Performances: 31 January, 2 March 2019, 7.30 pm
Baroness Bertha von Suttner (1843–1914) was well known in Europe as a pacifist and bestselling author thanks to her antiwar novel Die Waffen nieder (Lay Down Your Arms, 1889). Alfred Nobel (1833–96), a Swedish chemist, discoverer and loner, was not only the benefactor of the prize that bears his name but also an extremely wealthy arms manufacturer. Surprisingly, despite their vastly different temperaments the two of them felt great affection for one another. A flirt in Paris was ended by Bertha in 1875, but her subsequent letters still subtly hint at a continuing intimacy. Her decades-long correspondence, maintained in various locations, forms the textual basis of this production: the tone of the letters switches between complicity and love while the two correspondents ostensibly discuss the looming danger of war in Europe that they are both aware of. What is left unsaid, the pauses and omissions tell their own story which is now revealed for the first time in all its uniqueness.
Angelika Kirchschlager, an internationally successful opera and concert singer, plays the speaking and singing role of Bertha: several French pieces and arias will be performed which Bertha von Suttner herself once sang. As a young countess, she had had ambitions to become an opera singer and had taken the greatest diva of her day, Adelina Patti, as her role model. Erwin Steinhauer, the great all-rounder from theatre, film and television, portrays Bertha’s admirer, the shy, peace-loving writer and chemist Nobel. Bertha von Suttner and Alfred Nobel come alive in their epistolary dialogue as two figures with worldwide influence, as does the value of friendship in times of fundamental uncertainty. The letters are not yet widely known and have now been translated for the first time from French, Bertha von Suttner and Alfred Nobel’s language of conversation, by Elvira M. Gross. Alexander Doent created the staged version from the original correspondence that continued right up until Nobel’s death in 1896, including compositions closely connected to the story of Bertha von Suttner’s life.