Die Gespenstersonate

Aribert Reimann

Chamber Opera Libretto by August Strindberg, translated from Swedish and arranged for music by the composer and by Uwe Schendel

Premiere 17. February 2023

Performed in German with German supertitles


A young student who talks to the dead; an old man who tricks his fellow men into giving him help; a colonel whose wife has been living mummy-like in a closet for years and thinks she is a parrot; and the beautiful but sickly daughter. They all come together in a once stately house for a »ghostly dinner«. What begins as a bizarre social gathering quickly turns into a savage settling of debts, in which the murky depths and hidden secrets of all those involved gradually come to light. For his chamber opera »Die Gespenstersonate«, which premiered in Berlin in 1984, composer Aribert Reimann adapted »The Ghost Sonata« by Swedish dramatist August Strindberg to create this subtle and intelligent dissection of society, which builds on the great success of his literary operas »Lear« and »Melusine«.


The young student Arkenholz has a remarkable ability: he can see dead people, who continue to appear until their deaths are atoned for. Still dwelling on the events of what was for him a traumatic night, he encounters the ghost of a deceased milkmaid in front of a former manor house. Director Hummel, who once drove Arkenholz’s father into financial ruin, observes the student apparently talking to himself and pretends to be an old man in need of help. He tricks Arkenholz into thinking that he was not to blame for his father’s misfortune and offers him a position and the prospect of receiving his inheritance. In addition, he introduces him to the mysterious personages who live in this house: the colonel and his wife, »the mummy«, who has lived in a closet for twenty years and believes she is a parrot; their daughter, »the young lady«, who is ill and lives in a room full of hyacinths; the ghost of the dead consul and his daughter, »the dark lady«, and finally Hummel’s former fiancée, the now elderly Miss Holsteinkrona. Johannsson, Hummel’s servant, tries to warn Arkenholz about his master’s dark machinations – but in vain. Hummel, who as self-appointed judge is planning a great settling of scores, appears uninvited with Arkenholz at the traditional »ghost dinner«, at which everyone in the house has regularly gathered for twenty years. He ruthlessly reveals all the secrets of everyone present, until the judge himself suddenly finds himself in the hot seat ...