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Hans Werner Henze

Publisher: Chester Music

L' Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (2003)
Commissioned by Salzburg Festival co-produced with Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Real Madrid, and Teatro Massimo Palermo.
Text Writer
the composer
Chester Music Ltd
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Year Composed
2 Hours 20 Minutes
small SATB (8 voices)
Soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Mezzo Soprano, Basso profundo, High Heldenbariton, Countertenor, Buffo Bass
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Programme Note
Hans Werner Henze L' Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (2003)

The Grand Vizier of Manda sends his three sons out to find his beloved hoopoe which has disappeared. The two wicked sons Hadshib and Gharib give up as soon as the going gets tough, while Al Kasim, the heroic son, discovers the bird in the garden of the ancient Sultan Malik. But before he can reclaim the hoopoe he must complete a further series of challenges which lead him to encounter the love of a beautiful woman, a box with magical contents and the murderous betrayal of his brothers.

Dramatis personae
Badi’at el-Hosn wal Dschamal, a Jewish girl - Soprano
The Demon - Tenor
The Old Man (Al Radshi, known as the ‘Eccentric Widower’), Grand Vizier of Manda, the Island of the Black Baboons - Baritone
Malik, the ancient Sultan of Pati - Mezzo
Dijab, the old tyrant of Kipungani - Basso profundo
Al Kasim (‘the Sharer’), the Grand Vizier’s youngest son (who follows the path that leads away and that knows no return) - High Heldenbariton
Adschib (‘the Wayward’), a good-for-nothing (who does not follow the prescribed path of the action that divides) - Counter Tenor
Gharib (‘the Untrustworthy’), a sly fox (who does not follow the prescribed path of the great fire) - Buffo Bass
Invisible and unheard: the nameless Dictator

Small vocal ensemble: Gardeners, Flowers, Guards, Nubian Soldiers, Henchmen
Inside the miraculous box: 3 gnomes

Tableau 1: The Old Man
An old man, Al Radshi (baritone), is the Grand Vizier of Manda, the Island of the Black Baboons. Also known as the “Eccentric Widower”, he lives at the top of the tallest building on the island. He is unhappy and has been in a state of profound depression since the evening, some time ago, when he inadvertently injured his beautiful hoopoe, the upupa that was his only joy. He has sent out his three sons to find the missing creature.

Tableau 2: The Sons
1) Adshib (“the Wayward”) is a good-for-nothing (countertenor) who does not follow the prescribed path of the action that divides.
2) Gharib (“the Untrustworthy”) is a sly fox (basso leggero) who does not follow the prescribed path of the great fire.
3) Al Kasim (“the Sharer”) is the Grand Vizier’s youngest son (high Heldnenbariton). He follows the path that leads away and that knows no return. Al Kasim is the hero, and out of the love that he feels for his father he throws caution to the four winds. This is a matter of life and death.

The three brothers set out on their three difference paths, Al Kasim pressing purposefully ahead, while the other two slow down and finally come to a halt by the Great Gate. They sit down for a picnic and play cards. They decide to follow neither of the two dangerous paths but, rather, to wait here.
Tableau 3: The Demon
On a barren mountain Al Kasim meets his Demon (tenor). Trust and friendship spring up between them. The Demon warns Al Kasim of the dangers in store and advises him to turn back. But Al Kasim will not be dissuaded and succeeds in bending the Demon to his will. The Demon spreads his wings and carries Al Kasim to the Kingdom of Peril, where the missing hoopoe is now living in the garden of the ancient Malik.

Tableau 4: On the Island of Pati
A) On his tower in Manda, old Al Radshi has a terrible dream about Al Kasim and the dangers that threaten him.
B) The Demon reaches Pati and sets Al Kasim down close to the forbidden garden.
C) Al Kasim climbs over the wall into the garden. Scent of gardenias and dame’s violets (the flowers sing). The Demon shows Al Kasim where to find the gilded cage containing the hoopoe, but at that very moment the Demon sneezes so violently that the hoopoe wakes and screams in alarm. The creatures of the garden are startled and the gardeners rush up, followed by the courtiers and finally Malik, the ancient Sultan (mezzo soprano). Al Kasim’s Demon has disappeared.
Al Kasim is questioned and succeeds in touching the Sultan’s heart with his tale of his grief-stricken father. The Sultan gives our hero the cage with the golden hoopoe.
But everything has its price. He desires a gift in return. Old Malik loves a beautiful Jewish girl by the name of Badi’at el-Hosn wal Dshamal (soprano). She has been captured and abducted, says old Malik, and is now held prisoner in a fortress in the land of Kipungani, importuned by immoderate gifts from the tyrant Dijab, who would gladly call her his own. But the girl, Malik says, loves no one but him, and Al Kasim must rescue her from the fortress and fly back with her to Pati and to the arms of her “old but lusty” bridegroom. As always Al Kasim says yes, adding that failure is inconceivable.

Tableau 5: Conflict
The Demon and Al Kasim on a country road. Early morning. They are carrying the cage with the hoopoe. An argument breaks out: the Demon does not want to go to Kipungani but prefers to return home with Al Kasim and abandon their attempt to rescue Badi’at. He has had enough, he says yet. Al Kasim finally persuades the Demon to fly with him to Kipungani.

Part Two

Tableau 6: Kipungani
Silently and cautiously Al Kasim and his Demon enter the garden of the old tyrant Dijab (basso). Serenade of birds, frogs and cicadas. Al Kasim finds Badi’at asleep on a bench in the garden and falls in love with her at first sight. Love duet (with Badi’at half asleep). We hear the Demon’s warning songs from above, perhaps from a tree. Al Kasim is about to kiss Badi’at when she wriggles free and screams. Torches, lanterns, impressively tall Nubian soldiers with halberds. Dijab the tyrant enters and soon turns out to be a friendly, mild-mannered old chap. But not at once. Badi’at, Al Kasim and the Demon are arrested. Dijab forgives them, but attaches a condition to their pardon: on their way home, the three of them (with the hoopoe) must make a detour to the Princedom of Matandoni and steal a large chest, the contents of which are unknown. This they must bring back with them to Kipungani. Only then will they be free to return to Manda.

Tableau 7: The Old Man (II)
The old man on the tower at Manda has a second nightmare.

Tableau 8: A Predatory Raid
The Demon is sitting on the chest that he has stolen in Matandoni (it is coated in black lacquer and has silver edges and handles). Badi’at and Kasim bathe the wounds that he has suffered while obtaining it. We learn of his rescue by his friends, Badi’at and Al Kasim.
The little caravan sets off. (No attempt is made to take the chest to Kipungani!). The Demon holds a parasol over Badi’at and with his other arm shoulders the chest. The lady holds a parasol over Al Kasim, who is carrying the cage containing the hoopoe, which in turn may be shielded by a miniature parasol.

Tableau 9: A Reunion
A) By the Great Gate. Broad Daylight. Adshib and Gharib are sitting in the shade by the edge of a well and, as always, passing their time by playing cards.
Al Kasim and his little group of followers enter. Friendly reunion.
B) Farewell. The Demon takes his leave of Al Kasim. (He is not allowed to accompany him beyond the Great Gate.) Under the pretext of needing some drinking water, the wicked brothers lower Al Kasim into the well, then cut the rope. Badi’at leaps in after him.
C) Al Kasim and Badi’at in the well.
D) The Demon has heard their voices and comes back. He releases them from the well. They thank him warmly and ask what they can do in return. He has a single wish:
E) He would like to see (and eat) one of the red apples that grow on Al Kasim’s island of Manda and that symbolise eternal fruitfulness, wisdom, love and joy. The roundness of the fruit reminds us of integrity, wholeness and perfection.

Tableau 10: The Magic Chest, a Ballet
A) Manda. Grand reception hall in Al Radshi’s palace. The wicked brothers bring in the golden hoopoe but also report the terrible news that Al Kasim has been killed in single combat. The old man is beside himself with despair. He opens the cage and releases the hoopoe. Adshib and Gharib drag in the chest (which has become bigger and heavier with time). Thrice they utter the magic words “Habari mzuri”. With a loud bang a door opens in the chest. Three gnomes emerge and in orderly fashion, playing music that is initially soft-toned but which then becomes louder and more violent, while the two wicked brothers are beaten, trampled and humiliated by it. They have forgotten the second magic word or else they never knew it. They scream out in desperation and pain.
B) Just as the situation threatens to get out of hand and the two villains look as though they may be killed, Al Kasim and Badi’at enter the hall, hand in hand. Needless to say, they know the magic word ‘shoulim’, which they pronounce three times, and the music stops, and the musicians quickly disappear back inside the chest in an orderly manner.
Al Radshi embraces Al Kasim and welcomes the girl. The two villains are banished to some provincial backwater and condemned to work in the municipal sewers for the rest of their lives.
The old man wants the marriage to take place the very next day, but Al Kasim asks for a delay: first he has to ride back to the Great Gate and redeem his promise to bring his Demon the apple from the Tree of Life.

Tableau 11: The Twilight Hour
The Old Man and Badi’at with the golden hoopoe feather in her hand, are sitting quietly high on their tower and watching the camel rider grow smaller and smaller until at last he vanishes in the evening light.

© Hans Werner Henze

Score preview:

Vocal score preview

  • Ensemble
    Vienna State Opera Concert Choir, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
    Laura Aikin soprano, Matthias Goerne baritone, John Mark Ainsley tenor, Alfred Muff baritone, Hanna Schwarz mezzo-soprano, Günther Missenhardt baritone, Axel Köhler countertenor, Anton Scharinger bass-baritone
    Markus Stenz
For some years now Madrid has been involved in a love affair with Hans Werner Henze, and their mutual affection is obvious. After a rather disappointing beginning to the new season, L'Upupa finally brought great opera to the Teatro Real. Although L'Upupa seems a small-scale work at first sight, this proves deceptive; yet the work is anything but pretentious. Based on a delightful Persian legend, it shows a very different side of Henze from the tragic countenance we so admired in The Bassarids. This is an opera constructed on the juxtaposition of different tableaux in which the action continually moves on apace, avoiding any distractions. Emotions and characters are portrayed in the clearest possible way, while the orchestra seldom sounds symphonic. The whole has the feel of a fairy tale being smilingly sung, whispered even, to both children and adults. One of the most compelling moments of L'Upupa is its conclusion, where the Old Man and his son's bride-to-be, the young Badi'at, stand gazing at the horizon, waiting for the return of Al Kasim. With a promise to be fulfilled, he has left before his marriage to meet his Demon, and we do not know if he will ever be back. Subdued lighting and the most beautiful orchestral passage of the opera leave the listener in a state of wonder. All the singers were ideally cast. John Mark Ainsley, firstly, brought deliberate ambiguity to the opera's most complex character, stressing the human aspects of the Demon. Ainsely made [the role] his own, and it is hard to imagine a better performance. The nicest surprise came from the young Spanish soprano Ofelia Sala, who was a charming, innocent and vocally impeccable Badi'at. Hanna Schwarz, hardly recognizable beneath her make-up and costume, was a delightful Malik. Alfred Muff, as the Old Man who begins the whole story, was equally convincing whether speaking or singing. Axel Köhler and Anton Scharinger as the 'wicked' brothers, and Günther Missenhardt as the tyrant Dijab, completed a cast that will surely be hard to match in future performances - and L'Upupa certainly deserves different productions and different approaches. All benefited, too, from the musicianship of Paul Daniel, who managed to bring out the best in the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid in one of the most impressive performances I can remember it having given.
Luis Gago, Opera Magazine,01/04/2005
The hot ticket at this year's Salzburg Festival is not one of the three Mozart opera productions, but the world premiere production of Hans Werner Henze's newest stage-work L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (The Hoopoe and the Triumph of Filial Love). It is described as "a German comedy from the Arabian". Salzburg's artistic director, Peter Ruzicka, must be kicking himself that he scheduled only four performances of the Henze, … Henze is now two years short of his 80th birthday and so he clearly regards his tenth opera as something of a summation of his career as a theatre-composer. As this is a Salzburg commission, Henze has clearly determined to write his own Magic Flute. L'Upupa is similarly a fairy-tale quest opera, in which the youngest of three sons of a Grand Vizir goes in search of a magical bird, the golden-feathered, black-crested hoopoe which has flown the old man's tower. The two elder good-for-nothing siblings decide to stay at home, drinking and playing cards, and plot to steal the bird when their younger brother returns. On his journey, the Papageno-like youth, Al Kasim, meets a winged demon who helps him on his quest, securing him access to the magic garden of an ancient Sultan where the Hoopoe has taken refuge. The Sultan promises to help if Al Kasim will rescue a beautiful Jewish princess from the clutches of the old tyrant of Kipungani. On the way back, they are duped by the evil brothers into parting with the bird and thrown into a well. After more adventures they finally arrive home to be reunited with the Grand Vizir (the evil brothers have been punished by demons who emerge from a magic casket). This action-packed scenario might seem complex, but it emerges in a production of magical simplicity and ravishing visual beauty by the stage director, Dieter Dorn and set and costume designer, Jürgen Rose with a spell-binding clarity. A clarity which Henze also achieves in what must be his richest and most entrancing opera score to date. The composer has written his own libretto, based, like his Songs from the Arabian which he wrote six years ago for Ian Bostridge, on Arabian songs, but it is replete with subtle references to classic operas: Mozart's Entführung and Magic Flute most obviously but also to Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal. His music is equally allusive, his virtuosic use of Chinese percussion recalling the Stravinsky of The Nightingale, his final orchestral peroration, an outpouring of achingly beautiful Bergian feeling that speaks directly to the heart. The final tableau is a mesmerising image of the twilight "blue hour" with the Old Man and the Princess looking into the distance and the Hoopoe back in its cage. Salzburg did the opera proud from almost every point of view, the Vienna Philharmonic revelling in the elaborate, yet diaphanous, tapestry of sound Henze has woven for them, dazzlingly conducted by Markus Stenz. The cast, headed by the slightly underpowered Matthias Goerne as Al Kasim, includes such experienced German singers as Hanna Schwarz (Sultan), Günther Missenhardt (Tyrant), Alfred Muff (Grand Vizir) and Laura Aikin is a gleaming presence as the Jewish Princess. John Mark Ainsley triumphs in the role of the Demon. In a word, a triumph for Henze and very possibly a masterpiece which will undoubtedly travel: Berlin, Madrid and Palermo are planned; London (or, preferably, Glyndebourne) surely must follow.
Hugh Canning, Sunday Times,31/08/2003
The world premiere of 77-year-old Hans Werner Henze’s latest and – as he has announced – last opera has aroused almost unanimous enthusiasm. The commissioning of the work with the rather unmanageable title, L’Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (‘The Upupa and the Triumph of Filial Love’), was one of Ruzicka’s first official actions when he was elected in 1999 as Gérard Mortier’s successor in Salzburg; an extraordinarily appropriate action, inasmuch as Henze had one of his first great international successes with the world premiere of the opera Die Bassariden at Salzburg in 1966. Now the wheel was to come full circle and Henze rewarded the confidence shown in him by also writing his own libretto for the first time. And it really is only the title that is unmanageable. The libretto combines ingenuity with poetry, the magical with the topical; all at the intimate emotional level that makes it an ideal basis for an opera. The theme of the tale has an Arabian inspiration: the Upupa mentioned in the title is a large colourful bird that has flown away from its owner, the old Grand Vizier. He sends his three sons out to look for it, but only one of them has the courage and strength to overcome all the dangers of the journey. Along the way he also meets a truth-seeking lifetime companion. If you suspect some influence from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, you aren’t wrong. Among his sources Henze has credited Mozart’s librettist, Schikaneder. And in Henze’s work too the young man has a less courageous, more survival-oriented companion – here called his Daemon. But Henze has swapped the voice types around: the brave son is a baritone, his daemon a lyric tenor.
Knud Ketting, Jyllands-Posten,27/08/2003
… Much of the score is sumptuously beautiful. Densely harmonised and orchestrated, its style owes much to Berg, yet stops short of atonality to wallow in a dreamy romanticism. Henze’s compositional craft is everywhere evident. Colours rich yet delicate, with shimmers of orientalism; speech is tellingly used; and natural sounds, such as the hoopoe’s fluttering wings are recorded on tape. … Still, one can forgive everything for the magnificent final scene, which concludes with an orchestral postlude of positively Mahlerian ectasy. Salzburg Festival has done the opera’s first performance proud. Markus Stenz, substituting for Christian Thielemann, conducted the Vienna Philahrmonic on angelically immaculate form, and Dieter Dorn played the drama refreshingly straight, in Jürgen Rose’s picture-book designs. Al Kasim, Matthias Goerne sang with all his usual sensitivity and intelligence, … Laura Aikin and Alfred Muff were strongly cast as Kasim’s lover and father, but it was John Mark Ainsly, replacing Ian Bostridge as the Demon, who stole the show with his warm, sweet tenor and touching portrayal of a grumpy yet endearing character. Yes, it verges on the whimsical and faux-naïf and, for some rigorous taste, the music will sound too soft-centred and unabrasive. But where else in contemporary opera do you find such seductive and imaginative charm, applied with such artistry? This production moves on Berlin, Madrid and Palermo. What a shame London has no current prospect of hearing what may well be the last opera of a 20th century master.
Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph,16/08/2003
Hans Werner Henze's new opera provides a cool moment of charm. Mr. Henze, at 77, has announced that L'UPUPA -- The Hoopoe, and the Triumph of Filial Love -- will be his last opera -- his swan song, or rather his hoopoe song... In his previous 10 full-length operas Henze has worked with [other] librettists. This time he has created his own text out of Arabian tales. Having proved his literary gifts in essays and memoirs, he perhaps wanted at last to tell his own story – the story of a son who finds his life's direction in trying to carry out his distant father's wishes. The dutiful son at the center of [Henze's] piece is Al Kasim, who at his father's behest goes off in search of the hoopoe with golden feathers, and who makes it his own quest, discovering puzzles, challenges and opportunities that he must address. In much the same way, Mr. Henze has stayed conscious of what he owes to the great German tradition but has altered it, treaking it with lightness, ambiguity and a smile... The heart of the piece is in the ending...the stage is silent; and the orchestra takes over for a glowing adagio. This is sunset music, and with it the composer reaches home.
Paul Griffiths, New York Times,16/08/2003
The orchestral apparatus is huge - quadruple wind, a couple of pianos, five percussionists - and incorporates an important role for tape, with the sounds of beating wings, chiming bells, and calling birds, that at the beginning and end of the opera especially are artfully integrated with the orchestral textures. But despite all these resources the soundworld never seems dense; some scenes, particularly the explicitly comic ones, may be underpinned by just a handful of instruments - a ricocheting piano solo, or an evocative trumpet - while the score's oases of lyricism, its kernels of emotional truth, are buoyed up by cushions of divided strings. It is in those moments that Henze's debt to Berg, especially in his vocal writing, is most apparent, though the use of closed forms - an aria here, a cabaletta there, embedded in an otherwise through-composed musical structure - is another Bergian trait. What one takes away from L'Upupa, though, is not its structural niceties, but a sense of lightness and economy, of a huge orchestra used as sparingly as possible, and of a drama that doesn't preach, doesn't labour its points, but leaves them to be uncovered (or not) as the listener decides.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,15/08/2003
Hanging over a pharmacy, at the very opening of Linzer Alley in Salzburg, is a stone slab with Trakl's poem "Im Dunkel" ("In the Dark"). It opens with the words, "Es schweiget die Seele den blauen Frühling" and ends with "Blick der Bläue aus verfallenen Felsen bricht". A long time ago, the composer Hans Werner Henze set Hölderlin's apocryphal prose writing "In lieblicher Bläue" ("In Lovely Blueness") to music in the almost one hour long "Chamber Music 1958," thereby expressing his deep longing for German Romanticism. His fairytale opera "L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe"("L'Upupa and the Triumph of Filial Love"), now premiering in Salzburg's Kleines Festspielhaus, ends completely in blue yet again with the tableau "Die Blaue Stunde" ("The Blue Hour"). A dark, melancholy orchestra piece magically changed into a typically German dense sound mixture by the Vienna Philharmonic under the direction of Markus Stenz. This orchestral postlude is a filigrand farewell. Lovely blueness as the goal of all aesthetics, the goal of all the composing of Henze, who was born in 1926. Here the music withdraws into itself. Here, many years later, the music thanks its composer and humble servant. A grandiose painting in sound, deeply moving - the intense climax of a mysterious, colourful evening. This almost serenely resignating end is previously indicated in the fairytale play, which Henze discovered in Syria while searching for material for his last opera. First he wrote himself a libretto. One may like to accuse him of jumpiness and talkativeness, which a professional librettist might well have avoided. But it is exactly this laissez-faire position, this don't-take-it-seriously and quick taking the edge off of dramatic situations that Henze wanted to place at the conclusion of his work. Above it all floats the wisdom of old age which has not yet come to rest. Thus a late work has come into being, which casually plays with the late works of famous colleagues, which fits in with "Tristan" and the "Magic Flute," that would cunningly like to renounce all excitement and all earthly activity/hustle and bustle. That now as ever formulates Henze's belief about the beautiful, as one of the unworldly categories, that the world cannot do without.
Reinhard Brembeck, Süddeutsche Zeitung,14/08/2003
"L'Upupa" is basically a bewitchingly fragrant and sounding ornament, an oriental arabesque full of magical sounds and buffoonery, which is not even lacking in the parable character. At least he does not strike one as constantly behaving like a school master. This effect is also ensured by the subtle to coarse humour, which Dorn (stage director) with Rose’s (help design) demands from the ensemble, as well as the musical arrangement, which maneuvers continuously between concrete narration (partially spoken words, partially Sprechgesang) and modest cantilenas, between sounding and moving forms (Henze: "my theory-free harmonies") and played-back recordings of nature sounds (chirping birds, beating wings, rumbling thunder, roaring lions, and pealing churchbells). One gets the impression that with "L'Upupa" he succeeded in - what he himself had always valued in Italy and his mother - maybe even believed to be unattainable for him: everything is easy and seemingly aleatoric, it has grace, it is “right”.
Wolfang Sandner, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,14/08/2003
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