The First People
Rudi Stephan 1887–1915
Opera in two acts
Libretto by Otto Borngräber
World premiere July 1 1920, Opernhaus, Frankfurt am Main
Sung in German with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 mins before performances begin and available here on video shortly before opening night
The first man and woman were banished from paradise. They’re trying to find a new world to live in.
Chawa remembers how much Adahm desired her when their love was new, but Adahm’s tired and fully occupied with struggling for sheer existence. His son Kajin refuses to work »by the sweat of his bow«; giving in to his inner urges and wandering through the wilderness in search of a woman. Chabel, on the other hand, is looking for »salvation« by praying to a benevolent God, to whom he makes a sacrifice. Both desire their mother in different ways. When Kajin surprises Chawa and Chabel in ecstatic union one night, he slays his brother. He sees a vision of the future: the "future of humanity".
Rudi Stephan finished his opera in 1914. It was performed for the first time in 1920 in Frankfurt, by which time the composer had been dead for five years – a soldier who fell at the front. An unconventional voice silenced before he could develop the promise in the few works he wrote. Music critic Paul Bekker wrote: »A new individual musical voice has emerged here of surprisingly substantial tonality whose peculiarities, even if initially disconcerting, bear the stamp of the familiar, but not contrived.« Like Franz Schreker, some of whose operas also received their world premieres in Frankfurt before the world war, Rudi Stephan remained true to tonality while exploring the colours of a large orchestra in an until then unheard of way. In continually new upsurges, his symphonically influenced music gains tremendous expressivity elevating the text, which is charged with erotic urgency - based on a play by Otto Borngräber, which was banned after its premiere in 1912 - to a level that reveals a genuine operatic composer. Come and discover an almost forgotten, exciting work.