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Opera by Richard Strauss
The composer with Hotter and Ursuleac, singers of leading parts, in 1939
Librettist Joseph Gregor
Language German
Premiere 24 July 1938 (1938-07-24)
Nationaltheater, Munich

Friedenstag (Peace Day) is an opera in one act by Richard Strauss, his Opus 81, to a German libretto by Joseph Gregor. Strauss had hoped to work again with Stefan Zweig on a new project after their previous collaboration of Die schweigsame Frau, but the Nazi authorities had harassed Strauss over his collaboration with Zweig, who was of Jewish ancestry. While the idea for the story was from Zweig, he then suggested Gregor as a "safe" collaborator for the actual writing of the libretto.[1] Zweig's influence on the work nonetheless remained in its "form and dramatic substance".[2]

The opera was premiered at Munich on 24 July 1938[3] and dedicated to Viorica Ursuleac and her husband Clemens Krauss, the lead and conductor respectively. Strauss had intended Friedenstag as part of a double-bill, to be conducted by Karl Böhm in Dresden, that would include as the second part his next collaboration with Gregor, Daphne.[4]

The opera thematically expresses anti-war sentiments, which William Mann has described as "a determined counter to the militaristic policies of Nazi Germany".[5] These caused the work to be shelved after the outbreak of World War II.

Performance history[edit]

The premiere was attended by Adolf Hitler.[6] In Germany, Friedenstag was revived in Munich in 1960 and in Dresden in 1995. Pamela Potter has performed a scholarly analysis of the pacifist and anti-war subtext of the opera.[7] The work was given its United States premiere under the direction of Walter Ducloux at the University of Southern California in 1967. The first professional production in the US took place at the Santa Fe Opera on 28 July 1988 with a cast that included Richard Lewis, Alessandra Marc, and Mark Lundberg.


Role Voice type Premiere, 24 July 1938
(cond: Clemens Krauss)
Commandant of the beleaguered town baritone Hans Hotter
Maria, his wife soprano Viorica Ursuleac
A sergeant bass Georg Hann
A corporal tenor Julius Patzak
A private soldier tenor Georg Wieter
A musketeer bass Karl Schmidt
A bugler bass Willi Merkert
An officer baritone Emil Graf
A front-line officer baritone Josef Knapp
A Piedmontese tenor Peter Anders
The Holsteiner, commanding the besieging army bass Ludwig Weber
The burgomaster tenor Karl Ostertag
The bishop baritone Theo Reuter
A woman of the people soprano Else Schürhoff
Soldiers of the garrison and of the besieging army, elders of the town and women of the deputation to the commandant, townspeople


Place: The citadel of a beleaguered Catholic town in Germany under siege by Protestant troops from Holstein
Time: 24 October 1648, the last day of the Thirty Years' War

The Sergeant of the Guard receives the watch from a private that the enemy has just set fire to a farm. A young Italian messenger from Piedmont arrives with a letter from the Emperor to the town Commandant, and then sings of his homeland. The munitions officer, a musketeer and other soldiers mockingly comment on the youth as one who has never known war, just as they have never known peace. The soldiers then hear distant noises, thinking at first that these are the enemy, but then realizing it's the townspeople approaching the fortress, The Commandant appears to address the townspeople. The Mayor and a prelate appeal to the Commandant to surrender the town, claiming that both their side and the enemy are suffering needlessly. The Commandant, however, wants only total victory and dismisses the sentiments. An officer from the front appears and informs the Commandant that the town will fall unless the ammunition under the fortress is used. The Commandant refuses to release the ammunition for combat.

The Commandment reads the letter from the Emperor to the townsfolk. The Emperor has declared that the town must hold, with no surrender. The people protest strongly, at 30 years of continuous war. The Commandant is shaken by the reaction, and orders the crowd to disperse and wait a further signal from him. He then orders his soldiers to collect the gunpowder underneath the fortress and to give him the fuse. The Commandant recalls how the Sergeant saved his life at the battle of Magdeburg, and now in turn offers the Sergeant a chance to leave the fortress. The Sergeant declines, along with the munitions officer and private. After thanking the Italian messenger, the Commandant orders his troops to work.

Maria, the Commandant's wife, enters the citadel, and remarks on the crowd and her husband. Her husband enters, noting that she has disobeyed his order to her not to enter the citadel. Their voices contrast in their duet, she tired of war, he exulting in it and saying how he plans to explode the fortress, taking all its occupants with it. Even so, the Commandant offers her the chance to flee, for her safety. Maria vows to stay at her husband's side.

A cannon shot sounds, apparently signaling an enemy attack. The sergeant hands the Commandant the fuse, but he will not use it, preferring combat. The next sound, however, is of distant bells, and other bells from the town join in. The sergeant then reports that the Holstein troops are approaching, but not to attack, rather decked with streamers, flowers and white flags. The Commandant thinks that this is a ruse. The Mayor and prelate, however, are overjoyed to see this procession, mistaking it for the Commandant's promised signal.

The Holstein commander then enters to seek the Commandant, and offers the news that the Thirty Years' War is over that very day, as an armistice has been signed. The Commandant is harsh in his acknowledgement of the Holstein commander, and insults him to the point where he draws his sword. The Holstein commander reaches for his own sword, but does not draw it. Maria then throws herself between the two military commanders, pleading for peace between them. Suddenly, the Commandant and the Holstein commander embrace. The opera concludes with a chorus of reconciliation.


Year Cast
Opera House and Orchestra
1939 Hans Hotter,
Viorica Ursuleac,
Herbert Alsen,
Hermann Wiedemann
Clemens Krauss,
Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus
( Recording of a performance at the Vienna State Opera, 10 June)
Audio CD: Koch-Schwann
Cat: 3-1465-2
1988 Bernd Weikl,
Sabine Hass,
Jaako Ryhänen,
Jan-Hendrik Rootering
Wolfgang Sawallisch,
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera and the Bavarian Radio Choir
Audio CD: EMI
Cat: CDC 5 56850-2
1989 Roger Roloff,
Alessandra Marc,
William Wilderman,
Max Wittges
Robert Bass,
Collegiate Chorale and Orchestra; New York City Gay Men's Chorus
(Recording of a concert performance in Carnegie Hall,19 November)
Audio CD: Koch International Classics
Cat: 37111-2
1999 Albert Dohmen,
Deborah Voigt,
Alfred Reiter,
Tom Martinsen
Giuseppe Sinopoli,
Dresden Staatskapelle and the Dresden State Opera Chorus
Audio CD: DG
Cat: 463 494-2[9]




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