Babylon (opera)

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Opera by Jörg Widmann
Jörg Widmann.jpg
The composer in 2006
LibrettistPeter Sloterdijk
Premiere27 October 2012 (2012-10-27)
Bavarian State Opera, Munich

Babylon is an opera in seven scenes by Jörg Widmann, with a libretto in German by Peter Sloterdijk. The opera describes life in a multi-religious and multi-cultural metropolis. It was premiered by the Bavarian State Opera, conducted by Kent Nagano, on 27 October 2012.

Background and performance history[edit]

The stage work Babylon was written by Jörg Widmann on a commission by the Bavarian State Opera.[a][1] The opera was composed from 2011 to 2012.[2] Librettist and composer were not held to any restrictions.[3] The librettist Peter Sloterdijk[4] describes life in a multi-religious and multi-cultural metropolis,[5] the rise and fall of an empire.[6]

The Bavarian State Opera presented the world premiere of Jörg Widmann’s Babylon, conducted by Kent Nagano on 27 October 2012 in National Theatre Munich.[2][1] The production was directed by Carlus Padrissa [es] (La Fura dels Baus).[4]

The first performance of Widmann's Babylon Suite, a commission of Grafenegg Festival and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, took place on 21 August 2014 in Grafenegg under the direction of Kent Nagano.[7] The Babylon Suite is the concertante version of Widmann’s opera.[7]


The premiere of Babylon was reviewed critically by several newspapers.[8][6][9][10] The New York Times noted, that Widmann's hard work received a major forum, that Sloterdijk's libretto is overstuffed and often inscrutable, and the production is extravagant.[4] Die Zeit wrote about an indifferent libretto, a monstrous score and old men's lust (Altherrenerotik),[11] Süddeutsche Zeitung about howling wind players, opulent pictures and strange music.[12] Die Welt wrote: "alphabet soup of sound salad: orgiastic, bombastic" ("Buchstabensuppe an Klangsalat, orgiastisch bombastisch.").[13]


Role[2] Voice type Premiere cast, 27 October 2012
Conductor: Kent Nagano
Inanna high soprano Anna Prohaska
Die Seele (The Soul) high soprano Claron McFadden
Tammu tenor Jussi Myllys
Priesterkönig (priest-king) bass-baritone Willard White
Euphrat dramatic mezzo soprano Gabriele Schnaut
Skorpionmensch (scorpion-man) countertenor Kai Wessel
Ezechiel narrator August Zirner


Widmann scored Babylon for the following large orchester with 90 players:[2][3]

  • Woodwinds: 4 flutes (all doubling piccolo, 3rd doubling alto flute, 4th doubling bass flute), 4 oboes (2nd doubling oboe d'amore, 3rd doubling cor anglais, 4th doubling heckelphone), 4 clarinets in B (2nd doubling clarinet in E, 3rd doubling bass clarinet, 4th doubling double bass clarinet), 4 bassoons (3rd and 4th double bassoon)
  • Brass: 4 horns (doubling 4 natural horns), 4 trumpets, 4 trombones (3rd and 4th doubling bass trombone or contrabass trombone), tuba
  • Strings: 14 violins I, 12 violins II, 10 violas, 8 cellos, 8 double basses (4 of them 5-stringed)
  • Percussion: 4 players, timpani
  • 2 harps, celesta, accordion, piano, organ


The opera is about the conflicts that arise from the love of the exile and jew Tammu to the Babylonian Inanna, priestess in the temple of free love.[14]

The seven scenes of the opera:[b][16][2]


  • "In Front of the Relics of the Walls of a Ruined City"
    • scorpion-man[c]

Scene I[edit]

  • "Within the Walls of Babylon" (duration: 45 min)

Tammu falls in love with Inanna.

Scene II[edit]

After the flood, peace and order will be achieved between heaven and earth through a human sacrifice.

Scene III[edit]

  • "The New Year Festival"
    • genitalia septets
    • monkey septet

An orgiastic, carnival-like New Year festival with processions, cabaret numbers, and excesses begins.[17] The jews concider this as blasphemy.

Scene IV[edit]

  • "At the Waters of Babylon"

The jews reflect about their religion. They try to tolerate some of the sacrificial practices. Tammu is selected by the Babylonian priest-king to be sacrificed.


  • "Babylon Idyll, Night Music for Hanging Gardens"

Scene V[edit]

  • "The Feast of the Sacrifice"

Tammu is sacrificed.

Scene VI[edit]

  • "Inanna in the Underworld"

Inanna rescues Tammu from the underworld.

Scene VII[edit]

  • "The New Rainbow" (duration: 7 min)[b][d]
    • rainbow septet

A new covenant with humankind, based on number seven, replaces the old sacrifice.


  • "The constellation of the Scorpion"
    • scorpion-man


  1. ^ Babylon is Widmann's second large-scale opera. His first opera is Das Gesicht im Spiegel.
  2. ^ a b c The number seven appears frequently in Babylonian magical rituals.[15]
  3. ^ Taken from Epic of Gilgamesh.[17]
  4. ^ The seven scenes get progressively shorter, the opera is constructed like a Ziggurat temple.[18]



  1. ^ a b Jörg Widmann, List of Published Works. Mainz: Schott Music. September 2012. p. 9. ISMN 979-0-001-18462-5.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Babylon (Score)". Schott Music. 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  3. ^ a b Bruhn 2013, p. 169.
  4. ^ a b c Loomis, George (6 November 2012). "Carnal Knowledge in a Modern Metropolis: Babylon". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  5. ^ Bruhn 2013, pp. 170.
  6. ^ a b Büning, Eleonore (29 October 2012). "Fette Zeiten in alten Städten". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German). Frankfurt. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  7. ^ a b Jarolin, Peter (22 August 2014). ""Babylon-Suite" von Jörg Widmann uraufgeführt". Kurier (in German). Vienna. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  8. ^ Woolfe, Zachary (15 April 2013). "On Clarinet, the Composer". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  9. ^ Dick, Alexander (29 October 2012). "Bayrilonisches Sprachengewirr". Badische Zeitung (in German). Freiburg. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  10. ^ Koch, Juan Martin (28 October 2012). "Die "Zauberflöte" für das 21. Jahrhundert ist noch zu schreiben: "Babylon" von Jörg Widmann und Peter Sloterdijk an der Münchner Staatsoper". nmz online (in German). neue musikzeitung. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  11. ^ Weber, Mirko (31 October 2012). "Tuttifrutti". Die Zeit (in German). Hamburg. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  12. ^ Mauró, Helmut (28 October 2012). "Jubel für den babylonischen Untergang". Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German). München. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  13. ^ Brug, Manuel (28 October 2012). "Die "Große Hure" aus der Megacity". Die Welt (in German). Hamburg. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  14. ^ Powell, Andrew (23 November 2012). "Widmann's Opera Babylon". Musical America. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  15. ^ Collins, Adela Yarbro (2000). Cosmology and Eschatology in Jewish and Christian Apoocalypticism. Brill. ISBN 90-04-11927-2.
  16. ^ Bruhn 2013, p. 173.
  17. ^ a b Bruhn 2013, p. 171.
  18. ^ Camilleri, Jenny (5 June 2017). "Stenz conducts an impressive Babylon at the Holland Festival". Retrieved 24 August 2017.


  • Bruhn, Siglind (2013). Die Musik von Jörg Widmann (in German). Waldkirch: Edition Gorz. pp. 169–192. ISBN 978-3-938095-16-4.
  • Zuber, Barbara (2013). "Verschiebung und semantische Überschreibung. Der Doppelchor der Juden in Jörg Widmanns Babylon (Bild 5)". In Tadday, Ulrich. Jörg Widmann, Musik-Konzepte 166 (edition text+kritik) (in German). München: Richard Boorberg Verlag. pp. 55–78. ISBN 978-3-86916-355-0.