The basis of the plot is the ballad of a girl, Geborg, who, demonically obsessed by the youth, beauty, innocence and happiness of her unwitting younger sister, drowns her and marries her betrothed.
The younger sister was sun-bright;
the elder was dark as coal-black night.
And everyone wanted the younger;
but everyone shunned the elder.
The younger’s hair it hung behind;
the elder went after with evil in mind.
"O my dear sister, help me to shore!
I’ll give you a lock of my golden hair."
"O sink, o sink, come never to land;
your betrothed will have my hand."
Two musicians came walking by;
they cut away her fingers five.
A lock of gold they cut away;
they made it into strings to play.
"O let us to yon village away
where the great wedding is today".
The first tune the strings did sound
was how the bride her sister drowned.
On Sunday she was a bride at the altar;
On Monday she wore an iron halter.
In Bent Lorentzen’s musical version of the ballad the plot is easy to follow. He combines a series of strong episodes with extremely expressive music: a spring sacrifice to the fertility goddess Freya; a jealousy scene with the violent sororicide; a funeral; a ghost scene; a wedding ritual; and not least a scene that turns out to be black comedy: the head of the village, Himer, tests Gerborg’s conscience with a grotesque parody of her crime.
The opera ends bloodily: Gerborg confesses her guilt and is killed by the villagers.
Fackeltanz employs a highly unusual sound configuration: wind, fire, earth and water are used as a kind of concrete music, not from tapes: nature itself is the sound source.