Soldaten, Die (The Soldiers)
  • Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Opera in four acts. 1964.
  • Libretto by the composer, after the play by Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz.
  • First performance at the Opernhaus, Cologne, on 15th February 1965.

Marie, daughter of Wesener, a Lille fancy-goods merchant, has fallen in love with the Armentières draper Stolzius. She seeks her sister’s advice, while, in the second scene, Stolzius is delighted to have a letter from her. In Lille again, Baron Desportes pays court to Marie, forbidden by her father to go with him to the theatre. The fourth scene, in Armentières, introduces the soldiers, young officers, arguing about the moral merits of the theatre and the sermon. In Lille Wesener asks Marie about the intentions of Desportes and advises her to continue her relationship with Stolzius until she has a firm offer from the baron. The second act opens in the Armentières café of Madame Roux, where the officers talk together, join in accompanying a dancing Andalusian waitress and tease Stolzius on the probable activities of Marie in Lille. In Lille Marie receives a letter of reproach from him and is seduced by Desportes, while the reaction of Stolzius in Armentières is seen. In the third act the officers in Armentières are again in discussion over the proposed move to Lille of Major Mary. Stolzius applies to be his batman. In Lille Marie accepts the attentions of Desportes’s friend Major Mary, in the absence of Desportes. In the following scene the Countess de la Roche discourages her son’s attentions to Marie. Deserted now by Desportes, Major Mary and the Count, Marie is invited to become companion to the Countess. The fourth act shows the steps in Marie’s degradation, as she sinks to the level of a prostitute, after Desportes has subjected her to the attentions of his gamekeeper. Stolzius plans revenge and serves Desportes a poisoned soup, which he then drinks himself. The final scene shows Marie, destitute and not recognised by her father, while soldiers are shown as a symbol of those who cause misery to mankind.

Zimmermann’s opera makes use of serial technique and a series of formal structures for each of the 15 scenes. The work calls for very great theatrical resources in its attempt at total theatre. The play by Lenz was written in 1775 and presented a particular challenge in its changes of scene. Die Soldaten may be seen as a successor to Alban Berg’s Wozzeck and Lulu.