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“Eine dürftige Geschichte”; Arminius and the Failure of German Liberation Opera (1815-1848)

Colloquium Muziekwetenschap
Kasper van Kooten

12 maart, 15:30-17:00
Universiteitstheater, Nieuwe Doelenstraat 16, zaal 3.01


This lecture traces the little-known history of German-language operas based on the legendary German warrior Arminius that were composed in the years between 1815 and 1848. Considering the symbolic power of Arminius as a national liberation hero and his omnipresence in nearly all realms of German nineteenth-century culture, his apparent absence on the operatic stage is striking. This absence is even more remarkable when we take into account that liberation heroes were standard fare of many “national” operas elsewhere in Europe. But surprisingly, a closer look at historical sources reveals that during the nineteenth century, there were in fact quite some operas written about Arminius’s legendary battle, which were, however, all relatively unsuccessful or soon sunk into oblivion. Evidently there was something with this story and its operatic realizations that did not fit the mold of German opera or did not meet the expectations of German opera audiences. By formulating an answer to the question why Arminius did not conquer the early nineteenth-century German opera stage, I hope to provide a more profound insight into the nature and vicissitudes of German national opera and its discourse.