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Music Text

Libretto by Friedrich Wolf (G)


lyrS,lyrT,lyrBar,buffoB; chorus

Abbreviations (PDF)



This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.


World Premiere
Company: Unknown


NELLY, seamstress, 17 Lyric soprano
GERDA, her friend, 18 Soubrette
HARRY, an admirer from a suburb, 20 Lyric tenor
AUNT HOLZSCHUH, worker in a building crew, 45 Character alto
SCHMOERL, police superintendent, head of the night patrol, 50 Lyric baritone
BULKE, detective Buffo Bass
Women, Girls, Youths, Men, Detectives
Time and Place

A dance hall in a suburb of a city after the war


Nelly, whose mother died while she was young and who does not know her father, is given expensive jewellery as a present by the dubious Harry. The girl is embarrassed, flattered – she feels drawn towards Harry, who has a reputation of being a loose fellow. At a routine police raid, the jewellery becomes her undoing. The superintendent on duty, Schmoerl, suspects a case of receiving stolen goods and prostitution. Schmoerl, a German officer with a sense of thoroughness, wants to get to the bottom of the trouble which he believes can be found in her social background. But the more deeply he digs, the more unsteady becomes the ground under his bourgeois morals; behind the facade of respectability nothing but hypocrisy appears. For during the hearing Schmoerl learns that Nelly is his own daughter, the knowledge of whose existence he had repressed for 17 years. ‘I had to press a thousand cases into files ere my case hit me,’ is his bitter insight. To Harry, who has been wounded by a shot on his escape, Schmoerl’s story becomes a lesson. The circle of seduction and disillusion – symbolized by a demonically returning, phoenix-like night swallow – seems this time to be broken.


Dramatic, Poetic

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