Odysseus' Return

In three acts with a Prelude by AUGUST BUNGERT.

A musical drama of the highest interest, one which may be considered

equal to Wagner's great Nibelung series, has been created at last.

"Odysseus' Return" is the third of four parts of a cyclus, called the

Odyssey, and its success since its first representation in Dresden on

December 12th 1896 has been so absolute, that one may hope to hear th

other parts before long. It must be admitted here, that this is due

partly to its splendid rendering under Schuch's genial

conductorship, and to the interpreters of the two principal roles in

the drama. Frau Wittich as Penelope is the very incarnation of

womanliness and queenliness, and no singer could be a truer and nobler

Odysseus than Karl Scheidemantel. Whosoever had the advantage of

hearing these two great singers in these roles, must for ever identify

them with the grand characters of ancient Greece.

Bungert is happy in having found a subject so noble and so sympathetic,

and his music does full justice to these sentiments.

The orchestration is simple in character, sometimes of classic naivete,

and though the composer keeps to measures without caesura (destitute of

rythm) which are peculiar to Wagner, he differs from him inasmuch as

the orchestra is always merely the accompaniment of the voice and never

drowns it.

All the characters are most life-like, and they thrill with those never

changing emotions, which are the same to-day as they were a thousand

years ago.

The plot treats of Homer's Odyssey with a poetic licence.

In the Prelude Pallas Athene appears, conveying the impression of a

statue and forthwith producing the right frame of mind in the hearer,

by the original song of thirty measures all in c.--After her

disappearance Penelope's suitors assemble and form a plot to destroy

Telemachus, the queen's son, of whom they are afraid. Hyperion,

Telemachus' intimate friend tries to frustrate their plans, but in

vain. When left alone he reproaches himself bitterly for his

treachery to his friend and decides to warn him. Hyperion too is in

love with the queen, but he is at the same time deeply attached to her

noble son, who at this juncture is seen arriving in a vessel, in which

he is setting out in quest of his father Odysseus.--Hyperion entreats

Telemachus to let him accompany him on this dangerous voyage, but the

latter begs him to remain with his lonely mother and embarks after

taking a tender leave of Hyperion.

Then the scenery changes. The first act takes place in a bay of the

isle of Ithaca, in which Odysseus has landed after many years of

fruitless wandering. He has fallen asleep near a grotto, which is the

abode of nymphs; beside him lie the gifts of the Phaeaces. On the

heights the hut of old Eumaeus, Odysseus' steward is seen. He sits on

a bench beside the aged Laertes, Odysseus' father, awaiting his master.

Shepherds, dancing and frolicking past him laugh and mock at the

faithful servant's belief in Odysseus' return.

By and by Odysseus half awakes from the deep slumber, into which the

gods have thrown him; the whole country seems to be enveloped in mist

and he does not recognize it, although the songs of the peasants fill

him with thoughts of his youth and his home. Dreamily he sinks back on

his couch, while Pallas appears attired in beggar's garb, which she

throws off and is seen clad fantastically in the costume of a royal

shepherdess. She waves her hand, and the mist clears away when

the whole country is seen bathed in moonlight and Odysseus opening his

eyes recognizes mount Neriton and his own beloved island. Blinded with

tears he kisses the sacred soil, and returns thanks to the gods, who

have at last led him back to his home.

Suddenly he hears Eumaeus' voice, and finding the beggar's cloak, which

the goddess has left him, he wraps himself in it, and hides his weapons

and the treasures of the Phaeaces in the grotto. Eumaeus loudly

bewails Penelope's fate, and curses the wicked suitors. At the same

time the sound of oars is heard and Telemachus' vessel passes by,

pursued by the suitors. Eumaeus, too weak to render aid, continues to

wail, when suddenly Odysseus rises up before him saying; "The gods will

conquer." The old man, not recognizing his king continues to accuse

the Fates, and tells the stranger, how badly things have fared since

the king's absence.--"And Penelope, my friend?" asks Odysseus.

"Penelope is faithful," answers the servant. Then "Be it known to you

friend, that Oydsseus will return" quoth the stranger. Struck by a dim

foreboding of the truth Eumaeus promises to lead the stranger into the

queen's palace this very night.

While they converse, Telemachus calls upon Eumaeus for help, and when

the vessels come into sight the prince is seen fighting against his

pursuers. He slays one of them, but their number far exceeds that of

his own followers. Odysseus, who has vainly looked for the boat

which the suitors have stolen, throws his club at them, and springs

into his son's vessel just in time to rescue the lad, whose sword has

been broken, but who continues to fight, nothing daunted. Odysseus

kills some of his foes and pushes their vessel far off, after which

they escape, while the father carries his fainting son on shore. At

this moment Eumaeus recognizes his mighty guest. Telemachus still half

unconscious, calls for another sword. When he at last opens his eyes

he stares in wonder at the mysterious stranger whom he deems a god in

beggar's garb. Eumaeus informs him, that the stranger brings news of

their long lost king, which fills the son's heart with joy. At this

point the low songs of the nymphs are heard, welcoming the hero to

Ithaca while Laertes, slowly descending from the heights, prophesies

Odysseus' return as one in a dream. Odysseus can hardly restrain his

tears at seeing his father looking so old and so woebegone. He meets

him humbly, and all their voices mingle in a chorus of triumph and

welcome, while Odysseus stepping forward, vows that he will annihilate

the suitors.

The second act opens in Penelope's room.

She sits at her loom, looking out over the far stretching sea and

bewailing her lot. Behind the scene the evoes and drunken cries of the

suitors are heard and with bitter tears she prays to the gods to help

her, and to protect her son, whom she knows to be on the treacherous

waves.--Suddenly Hyperion rushes in and prostrating himself at

her feet offers her a bunch of orange blossoms, and pays homage to her

in sentimental poetic language. Penelope quietly congratulates him on

having escaped from the nets of his paramour Despoina and the lover,

taking this as a favourable sign, breaks out into passionate words, but

is at once checked by the queen. He then reveals to her the shameful

plot of the suitors, and Penelope becomes speechless with horror.

Before she recovers her selfpossession the suitors rush into the

apartment, insolently reminding her of her promise to choose one of

them, as soon as the garment, which she has been weaving for so many

years for Laertes shall be completed, and wildly upbraiding her with

undoing her work during the night Penelope tries to hold them in check,

but they only grow more shameless, and at last Antinous tries to

embrace her. Quick as thought she draws her dagger, and when it is

wrenched from her she snatches his own sword and directs it against

him. But Eurymachus, another suitor comes forward, and attacking

Hyperion, pierces him with his sword, then turns to the queen, swearing

to kill Telemachus as well, should she not yield to their demands. The

queen wavers, when renewed acclamations are heard, and Telemachus

enters with Eumaeus and Odysseus, the latter still wearing his

disguise. The mother rushes forward to embrace her son, but he is

seized by the suitors who peremptorily require the queen's oath. "Save

thy son o queen", says the stranger, and Penelope at last swears

to give her hand to him who shall be victorious in the contest held on

Apollo's festival on the following day. Thereupon the suitors promise

to protect Telemachus and retire leaving mother and son together.

Not until then does Telemachus recognize in the prostrate form his

friend Hyperion, who dying tells him, that he has betrayed his friend

and loved his mother. Terrified though he is the tender-hearted youth

forgives him and entreats his mother to do the same. But the queen

stands as one turned to stone not heeding the stranger, who likewise

bids her say a word to the man, who is dying for her, and who is now in

his last moments raving of his unholy love. Telemachus at last seizes

his friend's hand and closes his dim eyes with a kiss, while the queen,

with a last despairing cry for Odysseus sinks back senseless and is

carried away by her son and her nurse Eurycleia.--Left alone, Odysseus

remains a prey to doubt and jealousy.--When Penelope recovering hears

the news of her lost husband, Odysseus promises her the speedy return

of the latter, answering her excited questions with: "I know him as I

know myself." The queen fears he will be too late, and when the

stranger insinuates to her that the king will perhaps kill the suitors

whom he has discovered in the queen's apartments and cunningly asks,

wether she wants their protection, her long pent up rage against her

pursuers finds vent in a terrible cry for vengeance and for the

annihilation of all her enemies, and falling on her knees before the

beggar she beseeches him to hasten Odysseus' return. The latter, being

at last sure of his wife's faithfullness, reassures her and tells her

to confide in the gods.

The third act opens with Apollo's festival. The statue of the god is

carried before the people, adorned with roses and ivy. The suitors

banquet in the palace, while the true master sits aloof on the steps of

the temple and is mocked at by the crowd, however remains quiet, only

invoking the god to direct his fate.--Trumpets announce the arrival of

the queen, who is loudly hailed by the crowd. She carries her

husband's own bow, and promises to marry whomsoever shall succeed in

bending it, and in shooting the arrow through a series of twelve

rings.--Telemachus is the first to try his luck, hoping to redeem his

beloved mother. But alas, his strength fails him, and he has to hand

the bow on to the suitors, who so goad and taunt him, that the boy

draws his sword. But they are stronger, Telemachus stumbles and the

beggar catches him in his arms, and unfolds his mantle to protect him

whispering: "Telemachus my son, I am thy father." The youth sinks on

his knees, but Odysseus enjoins silence upon him and warns him to be

ready for battle.

Meanwhile the boy is derided by the crowd, and the queen bitterly

disappointed turns to the beggar whispering: "Thy words old man were

false!" But Odysseus replies: "The gods will prove victorious",

and kisses the queen's hand so fervently, that she stares at him as one

in a trance, until he, recovering himself, kisses it again in due

humility. Her eyes once more grow dim, and she leaves the grounds in

dull despair. During this time the bow has passed from hand to hand,

but none can bend it, and the augur Theoclymenus, who hears Jupiter's

thunder and sees the ravens fly over the temple prophesies their


Eurymachus at last proposes to throw the bow into the fire, when the

beggar advances and asks leave to try his strength at bending it,

which, though indignantly refused by the suitors, is immediately

granted by Telemachus, who owns the bow. Odysseus bends it and shoots

through all the rings.

During this scene Pallas appears in the air, holding her shield aloft.

Horror seizes the wooers, when they recognize the mighty arm, which

alone can bend the bow, and Odysseus, flinging his cloak from him and

standing erect in his shining armour, slays his enemies aided by his

son and those of his servants who have remained true to him and to

their queen. The latter, walking slowly over the peristyle all at once

sees Odysseus and recognizes her lord, who folds her to his heart.

When the palace is cleared of the dead, the people press in to hail

their king and Athene appears once more, holding her shield over the

happy crowd and blessing the faithful spouse.