Ildebrando Pizzetti’s MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL at the Oper Frankfurt


Ildebrando Pizzetti 1880 – 1968
Tragedia musicale in two acts and one intermezzo
Libretto by Ildebrando Pizzetti after the play Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot
English version: Geoffrey Dunn
First performed March 1st 1958, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Sung in English with German surtitles
Duration c. 1 1/2 hrs., no interval

Saturday 18.04.2015
26.04.2015 |08.05.2015 |14.05.2015 |25.05.2015


About the Piece

On the 29th of December 1170 Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, and one time Lord Chancellor of King Henry II, was murdered in his cathedral by four noblemen in the service of the king. This bloody deed triggered powerful political and religious consequences and led to a cult of veneration for the murdered religious crusader, who was soon to be canonized. Historians still argue about whether it really was the king who ordered his death but it is a fact that Henry paid public penance at the martyr’s grave in 1174. 2MurderIn T. S. Eliot’s dramatic masterpiece, written in 1935, modelled on information about life in the middle-ages but crafted in modern verse, ends with the poeple singing about an age of fear and desperation: »We confess that the sins of the world come down on the head of our king, the blood of a martyr, the death of a saint.«. Eliot’s Becket is: »a tool of God who longs for nothing for himself, let alone martyrdom.« Ildebrando Pizzetti, whose aesthetic marked a new entity of drama and lyric which went against Italian verismo still prevalent at the time, showed his play to Eliot, who was doing the same for literature, in 1956. Their mutual reverence for the Gregorian past is obvious – especially in the great choral passages.3Murder


Karsten Januschke
Keith Warner
Revival rehearsed by Hans Walter Richter
Stage Designer Tilo Steffens
Costume Designer Julia Müer
Lighting Designer Olaf Winter
Dramaturge Norbert Abels
Chorus Master Tilman Michael
Children’s Chorus Master Markus Ehmann

Archbishop Tommaso / Thomas Becket
Sir John Tomlinson
Ein Herold
Michael McCown
Hans-Jürgen Lazar
Dietrich Volle
Vuyani Mlinde
1st Tempter / Knight
Beau Gibson
2nd Tempter / Knight
Simon Bailey
3rd Tempter / Knight
Sebastian Geyer
4th Tempter / Knight
Alfred Reiter
Britta Stallmeister
Jenny Carlstedt

Oper Frankfurt’s Orchestra

Oper Frankfurt’s Chorus & Children’s Chorus6Murder



Bitter conflicts destroyed the once friendly relationship between Henry II and his former Lord Chancellor, Thomas Becket. During the seven years he spent in exile the faithful have been longing for his reinstatement as Archbishop, but fear the King’s anger. A messenger announces that Becket is on his way. Thomas’ arrival puts an end to a battle of words between the women and priests.
Four tempters appear to Thomas to test him. The first three attempt to seduce him with worldly pleasures, political power and persuade him to use his spiritual task for worldly ends. They all recall his pride and ambition. Thomas rejects them. The fourth tempts him with the glory of martyrdom, his secret wish for eternal glory. Thomas wrestles with these and triumphs over his internal struggle.8Murder
At mass on Christmas morning he preaches that he rejects all worldly desires, entrusting himself entirely to the will of God.
Four knights, who say have been sent by the King, appear and demand to see the Archbishop. They accuse Thomas of betraying the King. Thomas rejects their accusation, saying that he serves no other than God alone. While the knights withdraw to arm themselves and pump themselves up with drink, the priests urge Thomas to celebrate vespers, and try to bolt the doors to the cathedral. The women grow frantic as Thomas finds the centre of his faith in simplicity. He orders the Priests to open the doors because God’s church must always remain open, even to the enemy. The knights find their way back in and kill him. The knights explain, in political jargon that it was Thomas’ stubborn pride that led to his return and death: a kind of suicide.
A congregation begin singing a Gloria for the new martyr.9Murder11Murder 12Murder

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1 Response to Ildebrando Pizzetti’s MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL at the Oper Frankfurt

  1. David Geary says:

    I saw it at La Scala a few years ago with Ferruccio Furlanetto and loved it. A great work, even if almost an oratorio.


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