Paul Hindemith's Sancta Susanna describes a young nun's first sexual awakening. The libretto was written by expressionist poet and dramatist August Stramm.
We meet Susanna as she prays before the altar in the convent. She is gradually overwhelmed by the scents and sounds coming in through the chapel window, but also by the sight of her maidservant. Despite cautions from others, Susanna gives herself over: she throws off her veil and rips the loin cloth from the crucifix in front of her, while the nuns, having gathered around her, sing «Satana» in Hindemith's deafening chordal exchanges.
A Florentine Tragedy takes us back to the Renaissance, to the house of Simone, a wealthy Florentine merchant. Returning home, he finds his wife Bianca in the arms of an elegant stranger, Guido. The drama is based on an unfinished fragment by Oscar Wilde, published after the author's death.
In the absence of a first act, Zemlinsky uses a powerful musical introduction to describe what Bianca and Guido have done while Simone was travelling. An intense drama plays out between the three characters, as well as in the music, ending in a murder and a somewhat surprising reversal. To the same music that followed the love scene with Guido, Bianca spins toward her jealous husband, bursting out with: «I had no idea you were so beautiful!»
These two one-act operas are now staged for the first time in Norway. Both are characterised by sensual ecstasy and erotic awakenings, described powerfully through Zemlinsky's and Hindemith's expressive music.