Composer Olivier Messiaen

Friday, 01. July 2011
04:00 pm – 09:00 pm

Duration est. 5 hours · 1. Akt (est. 04:00 pm - 05:10 pm ) · Interval (est. 05:10 pm - 05:40 pm ) · 2. Akt (est. 05:40 pm - 07:25 pm ) · Interval (est. 07:25 pm - 08:00 pm ) · 3. Akt (est. 08:00 pm - 09:00 pm )

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Musikalische Leitung
Kent Nagano
Szenische Konzeption und Gestaltung, Bühne und Kostüme
Hermann Nitsch
Mitarbeit Regie
Natascha Ursuliak
Frank Gassner
Hanna Hollmann
Michael Bauer
Sören Eckhoff

Christine Schäfer
Saint François
Paul Gay
Le Lépreux
John Daszak
Frère Léon
Nikolay Borchev
Frère Massée
Kenneth Roberson
Frère Élie
Ulrich Reß
Frère Bernard
Christoph Stephinger
Frère Sylvestre
Rüdiger Trebes
Frère Rufin
Peter Mazalán
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Learn more

In the 1970’s, the Director of the Paris Opéra, Rolf Liebermann, beguiled  the sixty-year old Olivier Messiaen to compose his first and only stage work. The deeply pious composer, who with his entire œuvre invites the listener to experience and share the mystery of religious faith, wrote an opera lasting over four hours about a 13th century saint: Saint François d’Assise.

The “scenes franciscaines”, first performed at the Paris Opéra in 1983 are neither hagiographic nor are they a drama about the historical founder of a religious order, who was beatified in 1228. The man Francis, who surmounted his self involved fear of life through his fear of death and his repugnance at the spectacle of ugliness, makes room in his inner being for an illumination that shatters the borders of the individual and thus experiences the existence of God.

The saint’s story, his pathway through anxiety and inner darkness to a condition of perfect grace, told in eight stations as in a mediæval miniature or a church window, was Messiaen’s point of departure for a musical meditation on the spirituality of modern mankind.


The location is Italy in the 13th century. The theme of each individual scene is taken from Fioretti (Little Flowers) and Reflectios on the Stigmata, both written by anonymous Franciscan monks in the 14th century.

Seven persons appear: the Angel, St. Francis, the Leper, Brother Elia and three other brothers, Leone, Masseo and Bernardo, who were especially loved by Francis. The growing grace in Francis' soul is revealed in the course of the opera.



St. Francis tells Brother Leone that one must bear with patience all contradictions and all suffering to obtain the love of Christ, which is the source of ”complete bliss“.


After the brothers recite the morning mass, St. Francis remains behind and prays to God for a meeting with a leper and the ability to love him.


A home for lepers. A horribly repulsive Leper covered with blood and boils complains of his suffering. St. Francis arrives, sits down next to the Leper, and speaks to him softly. An Angel appears in front of the window and calls, ”Leper, your heart accuses you, but God is greater than your heart“. Thrown into a state of confusion by the Angel's voice and the goodness of St. Francis, the Leper's conscience is stricken because of his vehemence. St. Francis kisses the Leper.

A miracle occurs: The Leper is healed! He dances with joy. Even more important is the constant fl owering of grace in the soul of St. Francis and the rejoicing at his overcoming his feeling of repugnance.



A forest path on Monte La Verna. The Angel appears on the path. His magnificent robe with the five-colored wings is visible to the public only. The other characters take him for a tramp. The Angel's gentle knocking on the door of the monastery makes a great deal of noise, which symbolizes the entrance of grace. Brother Masseo opens the door. The Angel poses Brother Elia, the vicar of the order, a question about providence. Brother Elia refuses to answer and makes him leave.

The Angel knocks again and poses another question about providence, this time to Brother Bernardo, who answers with great wisdom. After the Angel exits, Brother Bernardo and Brother Masseo look at each other and say: ”That might have been an angel…“


The Angel appears to Francis and plays a fiddle so as to give him a taste of heavenly bliss. This solo is of such beauty that St. Francis loses consciousness.


We are in Assisi. A tall, evergreen oak is visible. It is springtime, and birds are singing. Francis, accompanied by Brother Masseo, preaches to the birds and blesses them solemnly. The birds answer in great concert in which one can hear both the birds of Umbria – in particular the capinera, a blackcap – and birds from faraway lands and islands, especially the Isle of Pines near New Caledonia.



Night, near La Verna. A cave under an overhanging rock. Francis is alone. A large cross appears. The voice of Christ, symbolized by the chorus, can be heard almost constantly. Five rays of light shine from the cross and gradually fall onto Francis' hands, feet and right side, accompanied at the same time by the noise made by the Angel's knocking. These five wounds, which resemble the five wounds of Christ, are the divine confirmation of Francis' saintliness.


Francis lays dying on the ground; all the brothers kneel around him. He takes leave of everything he once loved and sings the final verse of his Song of the Sun, the verse about ”our brother, the death of the body“. The brothers recite Psalm 141. The Angel and the Leper appear to Francis to comfort him. Francis speaks his last words: ”Lord! Music and poetry have led me to you… dazzle me forever with your abundance of truth…“ He dies. The bells toll. Everything disappears. Wh ile the chorus sings of the resurrection, a ray of light falls on the spot where Francis' body had lain a few moments before. The ray's intensity increases to the point that it can no longer be looked at. The curtain falls.

Olivier Messiaen

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Kent Nagano, geboren in Kalifornien, war Musikdirektor des Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, der Opéra National de Lyon, des Hallé Orchestra und der Los Angeles Opera sowie künstlerischer Leiter und Chefdirigent des Deutschen Symphonieorchesters Berlin. Von 2006 bis 2013 war er Generalmusikdirektor der Bayerischen Staatsoper. Seit der Spielzeit 2015/16 ist er Generalmusikdirektor der Hamburgischen Staatsoper sowie Chefdirigent des Philharmonischen Staatsorchesters Hamburg. In seiner Zeit an der Bayerischen Staatsoper leitete er zahlreiche Neuproduktionen, darunter Billy Budd, Chowanschtschina, Eugen Onegin, Idomeneo, Ariadne auf Naxos, Wozzeck, Lohengrin, Die schweigsame Frau, Saint François d’Assise sowie die Uraufführungen von Wolfgang Rihms Das Gehege, Unsuk Chins Alice in Wonderland, Minas Borboudakis’ liebe.nur liebe und Jörg Widmanns Babylon. (Stand: 2020)

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