Die Baskische Venus: a Basque opera made in Germany

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.

2018-11-27

On 18 November 1929, an opera titled Die Baskische Venus (The Basque Venus) was released in Leipzig, the only opera written by German composer Hermann Hans Wetzler. Unfortunately, the score was lost and all that remains is the libretto. To mark the 90th anniversary of the release of this unique and fascinating work, Unai Lauzirika, Reader of Basque Language and Culture at the University of Leipzig, has organized a talk to take place on November 29th at 5.15 p.m.

On 18 November 1929, an opera titled Die Baskische Venus (The Basque Venus) was released in Leipzig, the only opera written by German composer Hermann Hans Wetzler. Unfortunately, the score was lost and all that remains is the libretto. To mark the 90th anniversary of the release of this unique and fascinating work, Unai Lauzirika, Reader of Basque Language and Culture at the University of Leipzig, has organized a talk to take place on November 29th at 5.15 p.m.

Although the work has been practically forgotten in time, this is not the first time someone has studied it. In 2007, German historian Klaus Niebel published an article in Musiker 15, the journal published by Eusko Ikaskuntza, the Society of Basque Studies. Niebel had already been to the Basque Country, specifically to Gernika. Fascinated by the history of the region, when he returned to his homeland, he discovered the Wetzler piece and began his investigations. Continuing in Niebel’s footsteps is his own son, Ingo Niebel, who will be delivering the lecture at the University of Leipzig.

But what is this unusual opera about? Thanks to Niebel senior, we know, for example, that it is set in the 19th century in the northern Basque country. The main character is Alfonso, an aristocrat engaged to Basque countess Reynalda and the lover of a young woman called Juanita. One day a bronze figure of Venus suddenly appears on Alfonso’s land. Juanita, angry when she finds out that Alfonso is going to marry Reynalda, goes to the figure and curses her lover. This was how the story began.

Wetzler composed this opera when he was 58 years old, based on the myths and melodies of the Basque Country. After its release in Leipzig, the opera was performed to great critical acclaim in theatres in another three cities: Lübeck, Bremen and Koln.

Leipzig has a rich musical tradition as one of the most important cities in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Apart from a few Basque experts who studied at the University of Leipzig (Barandiaran, among others) and a few German linguists interested in our language (e.g., Schuchardt), nothing better illustrates the bond between Leipzig tradition and Basque culture and imaginary.

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