Gottfried von Einem Der Prozess
Nine pictures in two parts, Op. 14 (1953)
Libretto by Boris Blacher and Heinz von Cramer after Franz Kafka’s eponymous novel (1925)
Sung in German
with German and English surtitles
Duration of the opera approx. 2 hours 30 minutes
Print programme (PDF)
Michael Laurenz, Josef K.
Jochen Schmeckenbecher, The Overseer / The Priest / The Manufacturer / A Passer-by
Matthäus Schmidlechner, The Student / The Deputy Director
Jörg Schneider, Titorelli
Lars Woldt, The Examining Magistrate / The Whipper
Johannes Kammler, Willem / The Court Usher / The Lawyer
Tilmann Rönnebeck, Franz / Chief Clerk of the Court / Uncle Albert
Ilse Eerens, Fräulein Bürstner / The Court Usher’s Wife / Leni / A Hunchbacked Girl
Anke Vondung, Frau Grubach
Alexander Hüttner, Young Fellow / Three Men / Three Young People
Martin Kiener, Daniel Gutmann, Three Men / Three Young People
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
One morning a bank cashier is issued with an arrest warrant that – so he is informed – is not intended to stop him going about his daily life. He never learns what crime the ‘court’ is accusing him of. Although he only comes into contact with the lowest levels of the court, the trial that is being conducted against him becomes an increasingly menacing threat to his existence. He seeks help from people who are unable to achieve anything for him or, worse, are themselves involved in this impalpable and powerful organization.
When Gottfried von Einem began work on his second opera, based on Kafka’s The Trial, in 1949, recent history –and just at that time the McCarthy era – had for many people brought the irreal situation of the protagonist Josef K. an alarming step closer to empirical reality. But this was not the only reason von Einem regarded the literary model as interesting material for an opera: the realistically described everyday life in Kafka’s novel is continuously permeated by a metaphysical plane that as it were determines the course of events. In an opera this second plane lends itself to being experienced directly through the music, beyond the sung text.
The nine scenes describe Josef K.’s encounters and confrontations with various figures, and in musical terms constitute self-contained formal units whose character is determined above all by rhythm. Von Einem has stated that in Der Prozess he was attempting ‘in compositional terms to make use of only the simplest musical expressive devices’. It is this consistent but never monotonous simplicity and the musical evocation of Kafka’s sinister ambiguity that give the work its radicality and fascination. Like von Einem’s hugely successful debut opera Dantons Tod (1947), Der Prozess was premiered at the Salzburg Festival, on 17 August 1953.