Elegy for Young Lovers Synopsis
Music by Hans Werner Henze
Libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman
First performed: 1961
The action takes place at an inn in the Austrian Alps, where each year the acclaimed poet Gregor Mittenhofer comes to take inspiration from the visions of Hilda Mack. She has remained at the inn awaiting the return of her husband who, forty years earlier, left to climb the Hammerhorn.
The Emergence of the Bridegroom
Mittenhofer’s patroness and private secretary, the Countess Carolina, and Dr Reischmann, his personal physician, read the latest reviews of the poet’s work. Carolina hides money for Mittenhofer to find, one of many ways in which she and the doctor tend to the poet. Together they reflect on their obligations to him. Toni, Dr Reischmann’s son and the poet’s godson, arrives.
Mittenhofer and his young love Elisabeth appear. When Elisabeth is introduced to Toni, Hilda experiences one of her hallucinatory visions. Mittenhofer is delighted and makes notes.
Carolina, who is unwell with ’flu, shows Mittenhofer the latest reviews and typescript of his work. When he turns on her for her typographical errors and mocks her by suggesting she is in love with Toni, she is reduced to tears and faints. Dr Reischmann examines Carolina.
The Alpine guide Josef Mauer reports that the perfectly preserved body of a young man has emerged from the glacier. It is almost certainly Hilda’s long-lost husband. Carolina and the doctor decide Elisabeth should tell Hilda. Observed by Toni, Elisabeth tries to make Hilda understand what has happened. Finally, Hilda accepts her husband’s death. Toni is moved by Elisabeth’s tenderness.
The Emergence of the Bride
A few days later. Mid-afternoon
Elisabeth and Toni are in love. Carolina finds them together and calls for Dr Reischmann. They attempt to persuade the young lovers not to pursue their feelings for each other. Carolina discloses the affair to Mittenhofer, but discovers he already knows the truth. Mittenhofer plays on Elisabeth’s feelings of guilt. When Toni learns she has said nothing to the poet of their love for each other, he confronts Mittenhofer, who leaves the decision up to Elisabeth.
Hilda enters in high spirits and comforts Elisabeth. Elisabeth asks Toni to marry her; when he agrees Mittenhofer invites Dr Reischmann to bestow his blessing on the couple.
Mittenhofer recites from a poem he has been working on entitled ‘The Young Lovers’. He persuades Toni and Elisabeth to remain for one more day and to indulge him by picking some edelweiss from the Hammerhorn: he needs the flowers as a visionary aid to complete his poem.
Mauer reports favourable weather for the following day.
Alone, Mittenhofer gives vent to his previously suppressed rage.
Man and Wife
The next morning
Hilda prepares to leave. She bids farewell to Toni and Elisabeth as they set off up the mountain. Dr Reischmann leaves to prepare the town house. Mittenhofer goes over his notes for the poem. As a parting gift for Carolina, Hilda leaves the product of forty years’ knitting.
Carolina and Mittenhofer are left alone.
Mauer announces the sudden threat of a blizzard. He asks Carolina and Mittenhofer if anyone from the inn is out on the mountain. The poet replies that he’s unaware of anyone on the Hammerhorn.
Elisabeth and Toni seek shelter from the blizzard. They comfort each other and imagine themselves as a married couple of many years standing. They resign themselves to die.
In Vienna, Mittenhofer prepares for a public reading of his latest poem, ‘Elegy for Young Lovers’, dedicated to the memories of Toni Reischmann and Elisabeth Zimmer.
Back to full list
Already a member?
Sign in now to access the members only area
Not a member?
Join now to receive priority booking, invitations to dress rehearsals and members-only events and much more.