Music by Torsten Rasch
Libretto by Katharina Thalbach and Christoph Schwandt from Thomas Brasch's play
World Premiere: 23 February 2008 ,Oper Köln
Frau Rotter:Andrea Andonian
Hauptmann:Channon Chad Foley
Kutz/3.Arbeiter:Jong Min Lim
Fräulein Berthold:Julia Giebel
Das Radio:Machiko Obata
Chor der Oper Köln
Gürzenich Orchester Cond.: Hermann Bäumer
Directed by Katharina Thalbach
In Thomas Brasch’s own words, “Rotter is about a man who has tapped into the electric current of history, only to be finally disconnected.
Rotter’s biography starts amidst the turmoil of the ‘Weimar Republic’. He is an apprentice in a butcher’s shop. Dissatisfied with his dead-end job and an overdose of meat, he is gutting a pig, and names every part of the carcass. His nemesis Lackner appears and asks for some meat. His life-style is completely different from Rotter’s. He is a tramp, who enjoys women, and who makes a living as a small-time crook. Rotter begs to be taken along. Lackner refuses and prophesies Rotter a great career in one of the many parties or clubs, which are blossoming all around. At the end of the scene Rotter is fired from the butcher’s shop because he’s made a mess both of the pig and the shop.The Old Children (a kind of Greek Chorus) appear and take him away.
The next scene sees Rotter as member of the Hitler Youth, returning from a big event at the Tannenberg Memorial (Hindenburg’s grave), which he is telling his two friends about. A third friend appears: they had arranged to meet to destroy a Jew’s shop. After throwing stones and smashing the windows, Rotter and Stridde climb into the shop and re-appear, dressed in women’s clothes. The third friend (Ehm) is worried that they might get into trouble for it. But Rotter assures him, ‘a new age has come’. Finally, a policeman appears and asks for their papers. The shop’s owner, Rotmaler, comes down and asks for the perpetrators’ arrest. But the policeman claims that there was a fire in the shop, and that these three just wanted to extinguish it; that’s how the shop got destroyed. Rotmaler objects and gets arrested for insulting the government.
In the next scene Elisabeth, Rotter’s girlfriend, is singing a long children’s song she has learnt from her grand- mother, while Rotter is alone in the next room. While Elisabeth gets slowly undressed, and the song goes on, Rotter starts to feel uneasy. Actually he does not want to share the bed with her, because he had a dream where she was covered all over in hare’s fur. Elisabeth, after hearing this is afraid that he is somebody who could harm women.
In Scene 4, Rotter is among his teachers and relatives to bid them farewell. He is off to war. After a short quarrel between two of his instructors, Rotter gives a long, poetic speech about the coming age, and the greatness of national socialism. Elisabeth is impressed, and everybody is cheering. Suddenly Lackner appears, blinded in one eye. Asked what happened to his eye, he responds, ‘Do ask Rotter, he’s the one responsible for it’. Rotter refuses to take any responsibility. It turns out that Rotter reported Lackner to the authorities for theft and robbery, and landed him in prison. Lackner thought he might have done it to be with Elisabeth, because he, Lackner, had been with her before she met Rotter. Elisabeth curses Lackner for not keeping it a secret. But Rotter really didn’t know, and is shocked. He realizes that the child Elisabeth carried, but which she lost, might not have been his but Lackner’s! Lackner drags Rotter outside to beat him up. Only Ms. Berthold remains, Lackner’s old teacher from his childhood. She sings a sentimental song about his behaviour in the classroom. Rotter returns bleeding. Ms.Berthold leaves Rotter alone - he is still inconsolable about not having known of Elisabeth’s connection with Lackner. There’s no-one I can talkto are his last words in the scene.
In Scene 5 we see three soldiers in a trench waiting for their Lieutenant Rotter. One of them, Grabow, is enthusiastically singing the praises of the beauty of the rifle, comparing it to a woman, while the two others make fun of him. Suddenly there’s complete silence. The war is over. A woman is stumbling over the rubble and the ruins. They stop her and ask for her papers. It turns out that it is Lackner dressed as a woman, trying to desert. While Grabow wants to shoot him on the spot, the others ask him to wait until Rotter returns. Lackner tells them Rotter will not return, he’s already made himself available to build up the new (communist) state. While two of the soliders believe him and want to throw their weapons away, Grabow is adamant that the war is not over. He shoots one of his comrades and consequently gets shot himself. The third soldier is finally finished off by Lackner. As they die, the three soldiers sing of their pain. The Old Children come to take them away.
The 1st scene shows the people of East Germany singing that they have been deceived in the past, and now are going to build up a new society from the ruins.
In the 2nd scene, Elisabeth (now Rotter’s wife) and Rotter’s mother are together with the children Elisabeth never could have. Elisabeth is working as a teacher in a nursery school. Mrs.Rotter is reading a letter from her son, who is somewhere else building a new factory, a job he has had for years. All Elisabeth gets from him are postcards. While Mrs.Rotter is reading, Elisabeth joins the children in singing the nursery rhyme the children are humming, and only gets fragments of the letter from her husband. Mrs.Rotter begs her to give her son another chance, but Elisabeth replies, If I do so, I’ll end up like you!
In the 3rd scene we are at a big building-site. It is the 17th June 1953, the day of the East German uprising. The workers, who are bored and mostly drunk, hear an announcement on the radio about the illegality of the strikes going on. The strikers want to get the country back to the old, capitalist order. But most of the workers, un-impressed by the law, want to join in the strike, and have more money and all the advantages of workers in the West. Lackner, who is one of them, and has a reputation as a lazy-bones (he’s even been to prison), is asked to join the strike. You’re one of us! they say. But Lackner replies, I’m one of me! He sees no use in the strike at all: in the end it just will be ‘a new hat on the old bald head’. The workers get angry and stuff him into a chimney. Suddenly Rotter, the architect in charge, comes along, and wonders what is going on. He demands that Lackner is released and everybody go back to work, since the building belongs to the people. In the ensuing commotion Lackner releases himself from the chimney while Rotter gets dragged in, and the workers are off to their strike. Rotter is half asleep. The Old Children appear and Rotter complains sadly that he’s done everything to ensure a good life for his workmen. The next morning Rotter gets released. The revolt has been suppressed.
In Scene 4 Rotter comes to ask Elisabeth to move in with him into a small flat he’s been offered. But it is too late. Elisabeth has read a lot of books in all those years, and that is where her life now is. She tells him a story she’s read once, which was about him. Rotter does not understand. After pleading with her, Rotter then wants to know why she aborted the child. Since she does not answer, Rotter insists she did it because she didn’t know if it was his or Lackner’s. After Elisabeth has left Rotter declares I so wanted that child.
Scene 5 is a huge ceremony to present a Goverment Award to Rotter for his lifework. The master of ceremony is listing every stage and achievement in Rotter’s life. After every number a toast is made and drinks are poured. In the course of all this, everybody, especially Rotter, gets very drunk. Finally, while Rotter is drinking to the next project, he learns that he is to be retired. He cannot take this, and rages like a madman. He collapses with a heart attack.
In Scene 6 Rotter finds himself in a kind of no-man’s land. Lackner appears and Rotter asks for his medicine. As Lackner gives him sips of it, Rotter implores him not to go away again. Lackner says, Our time is over, there is now only paper, which is of no use to us. The Old Children appear and drag Lackner away. In his final monologue Rotter realizes, that he cannot escape from himself. Slowly rising, he wants to start all over again. Screaming, Rotter and the Old Children run through a tunnel into the emptiness.
excerpt from act2,scene5