3 boy S, 1S, 1Mz, 1A, 1T, 1Bar, 1B
Opera in 5 acts based on the novelette of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe
HOPEFUL PRISONER: Bass
DOUBTFUL PRISONER: Baritone
PRISONER FULL OF HORROR: Tenor
ANGEL OF HOPE: Boy's Voice
ANGEL OF JOY: Boy's voice
ANGEL OF DEATH: Boy's voice
BREADTH: Mezzo soprano
Choir of judges, choir of rats, choir of liberators
Accused by the judges of the Inquisition, the prisoner awaits the announcement of his death sentence. Corresponding to his internal division into three states of mind (hope, doubt and dread), the prisoner perceives himself to be surrounded by three angels – death, joy and hope – who reflect the fearful fluctuation of his feelings.
The prisoner wakes out of a state of deep unconsciousness and finds himself in a cold, wet, dungeon absolutely devoid of light; he hesitantly feels its dimensions. Utterly shocked, he discovers the circular opening of a deep shaft in the middle of his dungeon. As if by a miracle, the prisoner has escaped the deadly plunge into the abyss that the Inquisitors had planned for him.
After a dreamless sleep, utterly exhausted, the prisoner finds himself tied to a wooden bed frame in his torture chamber. Hungry rats surround him, awaiting his impending death. A heavy pendulum is suspended from the high ceiling, and a sharp razor blade comes closer to the prisoner in terrible slowness with each swing of the pendulum. Despite his suffocating fear of death, the prisoner thinks out a plan for his escape: with one free hand, he smears his chains with the remains of food, and the rats, which jump onto them hungrily, gnaw through the ropes just in the nick of time.
The prisoner fearfully awaits the new tortures thought out for him. The grimaces of devils buried in the metal walls begin to glow and shine. What at first only appeared to be a figment of his imagination has become true: the red-hot iron plates of the walls push the prisoner into the centre of the dungeon, which becomes ever narrower, in which both relieving coolness and the shaft signifying certain death are found. The choir of the liberators sounds at the last moment, and the prisoner finally escapes a seemingly inescapable death for the third time. Which of his angels will he now follow – the one of death, of joy or of hope ...?