The Baccahe synopsis
Music by John Buller
- I am Dionysus: Dionysus announces his intention to avenge his mother and to prove to the Thebans that he is both her son, and a god.
- Chorus I – Credo: The women hail their leader, rejoicing in their freedom and the pleasure of hunting, eating, drinking, dancing and making music.
- The Old Men’s Reverence: Teiresias, the blind seer, tells Cadmus the former king about the strange god. It is right for them to join the women who worship him on the mountainside. Cadmus is unsure of the propriety of the new religion but Teiresias reassures him. They are the only men who go.
- Pentheus the Dictator: Pentheus, Cadmus’ grandson, is now king of Thebes. He is furious with the old men for dressing as followers of the Stranger, whom he calls a charlatan. Teireaias warns him that his power is irrelevant in the face of old divinity, and his grandfather points out that by acknowledging the god as his cousin he would bring honour upon the family. Pentheus orders that the hut where Teiresias tells his auguries should be pulled down, and the Stranger arrested.
- Chorus II – Credo: The chorus pray to Bromius, Semele’s true son, god of banquets and garlands, of simple joys, and the pleasures of the night.
- The Interrogation – Part One: Pentheus is immediately fascinated by the stranger’s effeminate beauty. When he tries to draw out tales of the rites in which the women indulge, he finds himself increasingly confused. Exasperated, Pentheus threatens Dionysus but the god retorts that Pentheus does not know himself, nor the limits of his power. Pentheus orders that he should be imprisoned, and that his followers should be sold into slavery.
- Chorus III – Prison: A prayer for the release of the Stranger.
- The Earthquake: Dionysus creates the illusion of an earthquake and destroys the prisons in the palace. The chorus are terrified. The Stranger tells how the god transformed into a bull which Pentheus was unable to tie down.
- The Interrogation – Part Two: Dionysus astonishes Pentheus by reappearing unharmed. The king cannot understand how he escaped.
- The Messenger: A herdsman from Mount Cythaeron reports the wild activities of the women, who are led by Semele’s three sisters: Agave, the queen mother, Autonoe and Ino. He describes how happy they were upon the mountainside and then how they changed when they discovered him spying upon them: they tore his cattle to pieces with their bare hands and then invaded the villages, stealing the children and pillaging houses. The men were helpless, finding that their arms proved useless, and they ran away. The herdsman begs Pentheus to welcome this terrible god to Thebes. Pentheus is furious, and orders his army against the Bacchae, ignoring the warnings of Dionysus that nothing he can do will be of any use against the god.
- The Tempting of Pentheus: Dionysus offers to take Pentheus to see the women, and persuades him that he would be safer to go disguised as a woman. Pentheus is very curious, and he leaves to contemplate what he should do. Dionysus tells the woman that heir prey is caught.
- Chorus IV – Escape: The chorus sings the pleasures of freedom.
- The Departure: Pentehus has dressed as a woman. He is dazed and hallucinating, and instead of Dionysus he seems to see a bull. And yet he is very keen to behave like a real maenad. Dionysus adjusts Pentheus’ clothes assuring him that he will lead him safely to the mountain. Agave will bring him back.
- Chorus V – Blood: The maenads are inspired with bloodthirsty vengeance, so they will show no mercy on the spy. In the name of Justice they will kill him! In the name of Dionysus, they will trample him underfoot!
- The Servant: A servant reports the fate of Pentheus, while the chorus continue to sing the praises of Dionysus. The Stranger helped Pentehus to the top of the tallest fir tree, from where he could see the maenads very well. Up there he was suddenly very visible to them and a voice from the heavens ordered them to take vengeance upon the spy. Maddened with divine retribution, Agave and her women tore down the fir tree and ripped the man to pieces.
- Agave: Agave herself appears. In triumph she shows what she thinks is a lions head; she was the first in the divine hunt, and her sisters followed her. She wishes to celebrate the kill with a feast, and show off her prize to the Thebans.
- The Recognition: Cadmus follows with the pieces of Pentheus’ dismembered body. Agave is at first very angry that he does not praise her. Step by step her father reminds her of her family. Gradually Agave realises that it is her son’s head, not a lion’s, which she is holding. In utmost despair, they try to lay out the body for proper burial.
- Dionysus in Epiphany: The god sentences the royal family for their crimes of humiliating his mother and not recognising his divinity. Cadmus and his wife will become snakes, doomed to help a barbarian horde to pillage the sacred shrine of Delphi. Agave and her sisters wander in exile.
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