Birds feel delighted when they fly


Walter Braunfels (1882-1954):

Lyrical and fantastic play in two acts with a prelude
Libretto by the composer based on the comedy "Ornithes" by Aristophanes

First performance on November 30, 1920 in the National Theater in Munich


Citizen Hoffegut, tenor
Citizen adviser, bass
Voice of Zeus, baritone
Prometheus, baritone
Hoopoe, once human, now king of the birds, baritone
Nightingale, high soprano
Fence panties, soprano
1st throttle, high soprano
2nd throttle, low soprano
3 swallows and 2 tits, sopranos
4 reversible necks, tenors
2 kibitzes, basses
Eagle, bass
Raven, bass
Flamingo, tenor
Pigeons, warblers, cuckoos, woodpeckers, ibises, cranes, storks, ducks and other birds
Voices of the winds and the scents of flowers
The dance scene contest pigeons and pigeons

In fairytale land at fairytale time.


Closed curtain that is pulled a little to the side, revealing the nightingale sitting on a tree.

The nightingale wonders at first about the full opera house, but then coquettishly praises the kingdom of birds as a haven of joy and regrets those present, who experience stress every day and can never see the sky. But is it really that beautiful in the realm of the feathered? The nightingale doesn't quite trust her own statement because she hesitates:

And yet I sing longingly, yearning - for what?
Oh! out of me, oh, beyond me, the further I see, who wouldn't know
who brings the sweet torment to silence? - Who? - oh!

Rocky mountain area with a lot of bushes, but few trees at lunchtime.

Two citizens, Hoffegut and Ratfreund, climb over the rocks; Both of them have birds with them, Hoffegut a jackdaw, Counselor a crow. This animal companion, as the bird dealer promised, should help them find their way to the kingdom of birds. But that is exactly what the two climbers have meanwhile doubted: They scramble uphill, downhill, over scree and rocks, have sore feet and are constantly pinched and pinched by the beasts. But they cannot see the bird kingdom.

Hoffegut and Ratfreund sit down tired and ponder their plans (and at the same time inform the audience): One of them, Ratfreund, is fed up with life in the city because the “lovely art has degenerated” there. The bird kingdom, on the other hand, seems to be the ideal habitat for him, because art flourishes there, which you can always hear in the sweet singing of the residents. But now they are stuck and Ratfreund sees himself starving and rotting. Hopefully it's not about art, he had trouble with the female gender, felt that he was not being given due attention. He, too, believes that he is more likely to find a "tender love" with the feathered than with humans. In addition, the female birds are more beautiful than any human maiden and - above all - not so malicious.

Now Hoffegut's attention is drawn to its excited jackdaw fluttering and screeching and concludes that they may be close to their destination. And indeed a curious pantyhose comes around the corner - and immediately shrinks back in shock: What are the bird dealers doing here? He urgently needs to warn all feathered ones! But Hoffegut and Advice Friends are also not at ease in their skin - they too are withdrawing for the time being. In the end, however, both birds and the two hikers are curious: Hoffegut is the first to catch himself and, convincingly in his lie, declares that he is not a person, but a rare bird from Africa, known as the fearful bird. Ratefreund, too, lies the blue of the sky and claims to be a panted cockatoo from the pheasant country. But now the panties have to explain themselves to the two of them and so they learn that they are in the bird kingdom, that the birds have a king, the hoopoe, who was a human in earlier life and whom he supposedly serves as a valet.

This is good news for Hoffegut and advisory friends and they ask the pantyhose to take them to the king. The valet has misgivings, because the ruler has devoured a large portion of gnats and is now taking his digestive sleep. Consequently, willy-nilly, they still have to be patient. Advice friend and Hoffegut do not accept that, they insist on an immediate audience. At this moment the problem solves itself, because the king, certainly through the babble of voices, wakes up and commands:

Do in the forest, I want to go out!

Baby birds bend the bushes apart and slowly the sleepy man emerges with disheveled plumage. Advice friend laughs - in complete disregard of the ceremony - and greets the “noble king” with the question of whether he has already been “lured royally”. This tone does not go down well with the hoopoe, but it forces itself to regal calm and advises Ratefreund that its plumage is seasonally in this deranged state, but that it will look ten times more beautiful after the renovation cure.

Now the hoopoe becomes royally curious: where do they come from and what do they want here? It is advice friend who answers first: You come from a big city where “the muses bleed” - which is why they want to stay here and learn the birdsong that they find so beautiful. Hoffegut is surprised at this statement, because he has a completely different idea: Because they can never learn the "sweet way" of birds, he hopes to find a fulfilled existence in the "sweet-sounding realm" detached from any gravity.

The king weighs his head and thus signals a contradiction: He points out a misunderstanding on the part of the visitors and says that the birds do not have their own, separate realm, because they use the world that is accessible to all beings, but also the ancient sky. It doesn't have to stay that way, advises Advice and comes up with the idea that amazes the king, but also Hoffegut: The feathered should build a large city with a huge wall and a mighty castle in the ether that defies all storms . Then the gods would lose out and they could demand tariffs from people for the deduction of all vapors. If they refuse, however, the birds are allowed to block any passage and feel as masters and call people servants!

The hoopoe is speechless at first, but then jumps in the triangle out of sheer joy at Advicefreund's plan. He decides to call the nightingale so that with the help of her wonderful coloratura she can explain the wonderful plan to all the feathered ones. The nightingale has heard the king's call and follows his call with the most beautiful melodies and the whole flock of birds rushes in, the hazel grouse from the fields, the petrel from the sea, the eagle from the highest altitude, the swallows in aerobatics and the flamingos strut gravely after landing - everyone wants to find out more. All of this is quickly described, but in reality it takes a while. In any case, the nightingale is more than satisfied with the success of its appeal and the king Hoopoe declares that he has an important message to proclaim for all his subjects:
A couple of people came to you to make you happy, planning a tremendous work.

The hoopoe shouldn't have said that, because now the subjects react angrily and with rejection, even accusing the ruler of betraying the bird population - above all, one of the ravens stands out and threatens adviser and hopefuls openly to want to tear them to pieces. The two show fear and thus strengthen the aggressive raven, who has succeeded in rousing the whole flock of birds - all of them rattle their beaks rhythmically and come strutting, flying and hopping towards the two people.

King Hoopoe fails to restore peace. Although he continues to try to make the great idea of ​​advice friend and Hoffegut palatable to his subjects, he has no chance to get through in the turmoil. To make matters worse, advice friend and Hoffegut also get into an argument because the latter puts responsibility for the danger on the friend. Advice friend is already further: He is thinking of a practicable defense against the many beaks and pulls the saucepan out of his backpack, puts it on himself and recommends Hoffegut to arm himself in the same way. Oh yes: in the event of a bird attack on other parts of the body, he recommends that you still have the skewers
in defense.

The hoopoe tries once more to calm down with moral arguments: Please stop and do no harm to the two people who have not done anything wrong. To explain this, he brings his own life into play, which ultimately led him away from humans and towards the world of birds. The flock of birds cannot be lulled that easily, however, they stick to the negative attitude towards advice and hope goods. People are deceptive and faithless, it resounds from every beak, envious and malicious. For example, they stretch their nets to catch songbirds and eat them as a delicacy, and they take away the eggs from the chickens, so that the birth rate continues to drop. Shame on you!

Now Ratfreund is trying to flattery: They are millions of years older than humans, so they also deserve rule over the world. The building of those mighty strongholds he had devised in the high ether could bring them back exactly this rule. But it takes a lot of effort - and lo and behold, these eulogies reach the birds and bring calm and change. Suddenly they show enthusiasm and start to work under Ratefreund's "construction management": the cranes drag the stones in, the ibises carve them with their beaks, the storks form clay bricks and songbirds take care of the clogging of the cracks. Another crowd graciously walks around Ratfreund and adorns his body with colorful feathers, which makes Hoffegut laugh, but deliberately ignores the Ratfreund.

The first act ends with a large bird choir expressing the hope for a brilliant future for the feathered, as was normal long ago.

A mountain grove under a full moon; you can hear spring water rushing.

Hoffegut lies asleep in the grass; the nightingale chirps in the most beautiful tones from above. Is it this beautiful song that suddenly wakes the sleeper up? Or is it the rustling of the forest and the magic of the moon? Hoffegut is still a bit overslept, but admires the singing of the nightingale and praises:

You dear singer, how did you wake me up from my dull dream dungeon,
I lay trapped inside, dreary noise from the day that was still buzzing in my ear,
Your sweet, languishing singing frees your heart, swing you down to me, nightingale.

The nightingale is delighted with Hoffgut's praise and is even more jubilant than usual. Then it floats down to see the people up close. It seems strange to her to be so close to him when he belongs to a species that the chicks are always warned about. But he shouldn't feel mocked if she thinks he's funny. Hoffegut becomes brave, would like to feel her heartbeat and stretches out his fingers - and the nightingale lets him do it. She can't keep up with that and also checks his heartbeat; while he admits to feel a "sweet warmth", she notices that his "harp of the heart" beats sadly and irregularly. Hoffegut is now turning his innermost inside out: he would like to be of the same nature with her, experience the world through her eyes, but the nightingale is skeptical and recommends him to stay as he is! Then it bursts out of him: In spite of all contradictions, there is a "never-before-known sweetness" - love! Love? The nightingale doesn't know what the word means. The theme dies, because suddenly the set slowly changes:

The trees and bushes slowly become transparent, the flowers glow; the spring and the trees rustle stronger than before and you can see moths and fireflies.

The voices of the floral scents attract attention - the southern species claim to be benign and intoxicating, while their northern conspecifics describe themselves as malicious and admit that they bring a lot of moisture into the country. The nightingale is both one and the other bogus, she just continues to sing her most beautiful tunes with relish. But the smell from the north warns: “Fear wanderers our smells!” For Hoffegut the warning comes a little late, he slowly sinks to the ground and passes out. The nightingale, unmoved by what is happening, greets the awakening morning and flies away.

During an interlude, the scene changes into a sunlit air city that, like a fata morgana, stretches across the horizon. The choir of birds, led by the hoopoe and the adviser, flocks to the scene.

The opera-goer is astonished to find that the completed bird city cannot be compared with any human place, because the requirements are completely different. The cheering choir of the birds, cheered on by King Hoopoe, is, however, proud to hear that they have built great things with their own beaks and feet! Advice friend incites the vanity of the feathered even further and makes it clear to them that they are older than the ancestor of the gods, Kronos. He once took control of them, now the world is theirs again! The flock of birds hops and jumps with enthusiasm and signals full approval with chirping and cheering!

At this moment a migration of birds forms from the background of the stage, which the pantyhose tries to sort out. The hoopoe believes in a wedding procession and receives confirmation from the fence slip: Mr. Täuberich and Mrs. Taubezart want to be the first to move into the new city! Ostriches come and sweep the street with their big feathers, pelicans as policemen push back all the curious, cranes carry a finished nest on poles, exotic species such as birds of paradise and hummingbirds decorate the nest. And the pantyhose sounds:
Nest built, the bride approaches, nest built as you look, well built, the bride approaches.

Spurred on by the wedding music, the pigeon dances proudly and puffed up around his mistress, who, surrounded by bridesmaids, plays the pubescent. Of course, Herr Täuberich knows how to classify this correctly and, after a hug, with general giggles, he hops into the nest consciously of victory, watched by smaller birds peeping through cracks. Meanwhile, the larger feathered ones dance around the nest, shooing the little ones aside. Suddenly, however, the cranes come and carry the nest, stuck on the poles, towards the new city.

It could all be so beautiful, but real life is not all about joy: a tumultuous noise can be heard behind the scene: “Stop” and “Stop the thief” are heard off-screen and birds rush in highly excited. They scream about the "most unheard of occurrence since the memory of birds", which is underlined by the appearance of an eerie creature, huge and stronger than everyone: It has pulled all the barriers, simply pushed the law enforcement aside and is already on the scene:

Prometheus enters the scene; before his gigantic appearance the birds shrink back fearfully and hide behind their king, who in turn seeks protection from Ratefreund.

Advice friend is brave and wants to know what the intruder is doing here without paying duties and fees. The hoopoe thinks of his royal position and demands that the stranger identify himself precisely. But he cannot present any papers, and also provides the cryptic information that he comes from far, much further than all the birds here can imagine. The suspicious question from Ratefreund, why he appears so deeply veiled, gets an astonishing answer: "Because I'm freezing here!" Ratefreund's counter-question, "which oven" he climbed out of, expresses a certain irony, while the hoopoe soberly states, he could not feel cold because of the friendly sunshine.

The stranger explains himself: He used to be more than friendly to people, but he regarded the bird population as "the deity's loveliest gift of light". Then he should, demands King Hoopoe, obey the laws of the bird kingdom and pay penance. The counter-question comes like a shot: Penance? For what? Why? Hoopoe does not owe the answer: The times are over when humans and birds had to serve the gods slavishly and Zeus will feel that a free bird people will no longer dance to his tune. The stranger now becomes clear: He came as a friend, wants to warn her about Zeus, who is by no means asleep and has noticed what has happened in the bird kingdom up to now.But Zeus in his infinite goodness gives them time to “think about”! The answer comes from many voices, both solo and choral:

There is nothing to think about, everything is wonderfully thought out;
high in the air rises the fortress that shatters the power of the gods. Now we are free!
Poor you know than the word, all beings become brothers, all hard work,
which once pressed us, we are raptured, o joy, o happiness.

Now the giant has had enough, he stands up, lifts his coat a little and begins a monologue that includes his story: Have you ever heard of Prometheus? Do you know his story? It was really bad for him times ago when he challenged Zeus' power. To prove this, he shows the flock of birds his sore wrists and explains that he once “formed a bold, wild race from clay that, like him, cheekily disregarded the gods” and was then chained to a rock with iron as a punishment where only "his eye" remained free for him. So he hung for ages and had to see what he didn't want to see. The injuries to the joints that never heal were made when he shook the chains to throw himself off the rock to his death.

Hoffegut gets excited about the visitor: A god visiting here? That's incredible! Advice friend, on the other hand, can think of nothing better than to ask the insane question how he is doing. Prometheus ignores the remarks, he implores the feathered to forget all their intentions, which Zeus regards as just a gimmick anyway. The Eternal sitting on the “gold ray throne” can forgive if one pays attention to warnings - he, Prometheus, is the best example of this, because Zeus has forgiven him. Advice friend, however, cheekily rejects all well-intentioned advice, loudly supported by the birds: Zeus likes to sit on the throne and rule as he likes. Prometheus is annoyed that it will not be good for them. Advice friend arrogantly thinks that the bird world also knows how to defend itself against Zeus.

The sky darkens very quickly with black clouds that only have a bruise in the middle, like an eye. An eagle soars from above.

The mighty bird doesn't dwell on a long preface - it just says succinctly that Zeus' eye flashed. And as confirmation, one hears Prometheus calling from afar that punishment is at hand. These statements cause a certain unrest among the birds and they chirp and scream, then find themselves chorus with the question: "Zeus has woken up, what now?" King Hoopoe doesn't know what to do - so he turns to advice friend and he not only recommends occupying the battlements and guarding all gates, but also sends scouts into the air. Hoffegut interferes and accuses everyone involved of being foolish. But Ratfreund plays the general: "The battle" can begin, audacity has to win!

In the distance there is lightning, the winds suddenly whistle storm and the birds fearfully complain about the approaching thunderstorm. Hoopoe senses that the flock of birds is "at the collar". Because of the torrential rain, Ratefreund retreats into a cave - and through this storm, Zeus' voice can suddenly be heard, inciting the winds even more and causing a ball of lightning to race across the sky as a kind of confirmation of his determination: "Down!" it sounds mighty and a hand reaches out of the clouds - the beautiful city of birds with nesting places and nests goes up in flames!

In this situation the nightingale has a saving idea: with her coloratura she praises Zeus, calls him holy and calls him praise and praise. This is like a starting signal for the flock of birds to join in this hymn of praise. Apparently everyone has realized that their bird city will never be rebuilt and that it is necessary to draw a line. Behind this is also the realization that the gods, especially Zeus, are quickly offended, but just as quickly reassured - if one recognizes and accepts their will. And that is exactly what the birds do; Singing their hymns on, they all fly away.

Now adviser comes out of the cave, completely disheveled - the beautiful feather plaster is over, but his humor has stayed with him and the realization that as a human being he has no place in the bird world: It was nonsense to walk here, to hang around with the hoopoe and even to build a city on clouds. Now, after the downpour, he's soaking wet and would like to be home again, by his warming stove. So what is he still doing here? A question that Hoffegut (yes, there is still too!) Asks itself, especially since the birds are all gone. Was it worth it to be with the Feathered or was it all just a blown dream? When the voice of the nightingale can be heard in the distance, Hoffegut admits that she was the only one he got along with. But did it do him any good? Advice friend asks him to take him back to the big city and Hoffegut says that he will slowly follow him. Then he sums up:

Something resonates in me, it wants to take shape and cannot, but it is not a dream either, it is a poem,
that sounds in me without having words; How did this come to me, where did I get this gift from? [...]
You, nightingale, I understood for an hour, how happily I listen to your news, how do you speak sweetly, what I have ever known.

In the distance you can hear the song of the nightingale, who listens to Hoffegut, then bursts into tears and slowly disappears ...


Walter Braunfels, born on December 19, 1882 in Frankfurt / Main as the son of the lawyer and literary scholar Ludwig Braunfels (who converted from Judaism to Protestantism) and his wife Helene Spohr, great niece of the composer Louis Spohr. Walter Braunfels studied with Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna and Ludwig Thuille and Felix Mottl in Munich. From 1925 he headed the music academy in Cologne (together with Hermann Abendroth), but was expelled from his office as a half-Jew in 1933, but was able to take up the old position again after 1945, when the Lord Mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, recalled him. But old cliques from the Nazi era who had remained in office hindered him at work. In 1950 he retired; he died on March 19, 1954 in Cologne.

Walter Braunfels' compositional work includes operas, orchestral works, choirs, songs and chamber music in a wide variety of forms. The stage work “The Birds” presented here was Braunfels' breakthrough as a composer and was launched by Bruno Walter in Munich. At that time, Braunfels, along with Franz Schreker and Richard Strauss, was one of the most outstanding and most performed German opera composers, whose works were performed by the leading conductors of the time, such as Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Otto Klemperer.

After the success of his fantastic opera “Princess Brambilla” (1909 under Max von Schillings in Stuttgart), the composer was praised as a pioneering representative of new music. In contrast, the opera “Ulenspiegel”, which premiered in 1913 (also in Stuttgart) (from which Braunfels later distanced himself), achieved only moderate success. The most successful were “The Birds” and “Don Gil from the Green Pants” (1924, after Tirso de Molina).

From the ancient comedy, Braunfels only takes over the framework of the plot, while the satirical and socio-critical element remains unconsidered. In their place comes the longing for pure nature and the search for the blue flower of romance. Such a topic would have been extremely obstructive to a revival of the plant after 1945. But the score is rich in colors, and so Braunfels always succeed in creating atmospheric moments. Above all, the central figure of the nightingale exudes atmospheric magic with its lyrical coloratura somewhere between the Queen of the Night and Zerbinetta.

© Manfred Rückert for the Tamino opera guide 2016
with reference to the piano reduction of the Universal-Edition Wien - Leipzig (1920)