Music with Ease > 20th Century Opera > The Fire Famine - Richard Strauss
The Fire Famine
(German title: Feuersnot)
An Opera by Richard Strauss
Opera in one act. Music by Richard Strauss; text by Ernst von Wolzogen. Produced: Dresden, November 21, 1901.
SCHWEIKER VON GUNDELFINGEN, keeper of the castle
ORTOLF SENTLINGER, burgomaster
DIEMUT, his daughter
KUNRAD, the leveller
Time: 13th Century.
The action takes place in Munich on the day of the winter solstice in olden times. At the time of the representation the twelfth century has just passed. A big crowd of children, followed by grown-ups, is going in whimsical wantonness from house to house to collect wood for the solstitial fire ("Subendfeuer"). After they have collected rich booty at the burgomasters they go over to the house opposite. It appears strangely gloomy. Shutters and doors are closed as though it were empty. Yet a short time ago young Herr Kunrad lived there. It is his legal inheritance and property, a legacy from his ancestor who was an "excellent sorcerer" and now taken possession of after a long absence. Nevertheless, the superstition of the masses had been much concerned with the house. The most reasonable was that its occupant was a strange fellow, the majority thought him a gloomy magician. In reality the young man sat in the house poring over books. The noise of the children calls him forth. When he hears that it is the solstice, the great festival of his profession, an agitation seizes him in which he tells the children to take away all the wood from his house. This destruction stirs the townsmen but Kunrad is so struck at sight of Diemut, who seems to him like a revelation of life, that he dashes through the townsmen and kisses the girl on the mouth. The agitation of the townsmen is silenced sooner than Diemuts who plans revenge for this outrage.
Now the townsmen are all out of doors on account of the solstitial holiday. But in Kunrads heart the promptings of love are blazing like a fire. A mad longing for Diemut seizes him, and as she now appears on her balcony he begs for her love with warm words. The spark has also been well kindled in her heart, but still she only thinks of revenge. So she lures him toward the side street where the order basket still stands on the ground. Kunrad steps into it and Diemut hauls him upward. But half-way up she lets him hang suspended. So Kunrad becomes a laughing-stock for the townsmen returning home. Then a fearful rage seizes upon him; he makes use of his magic art: "May an ice-cold everlasting night surround you because you have laughed at the might of love." Every light is extinguished and a deep darkness covers the town and its inhabitants. Now Kunrad from the balcony, addresses the townsmen, furious with rage in a speech filled with personal references whose basic idea is that the people always recognize and follow their great masters. So they have sadly mistaken his purpose and the maid whom he had chosen had mocked him. For punishment their light is now extinguished. Let all the warmth leave the women, all the light of love depart from ardent young maidens, until the fire burns anew. Now the tables are turned. All recognize in Kunrad a great man. In their self-reproaches are mingled complaints about the darkness and an imploring cry to Diemut by her love to make an end of fire. But Diemut in the meantime has changed her mind; love in her too gets the upper hand as the sudden rekindling of every light makes known.