Marlowe: Der Jude von Malta (The Jew of Malta)

Opera by Andre Werner, 2002

8. München Biennale 2002, Muffathalle München, Germany
World premiere: 28. May 2002
Additional performances: Sunday 28. April, Tuesday 30. April, and Wednesday 1. May

Original text at:
Munich Biennale

André Werner:
Music and libretto (based on Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta)

Rüdiger Bohn:
Musical director

Stefan Herheim:

Jan A. Schroeder:
Stage and costume designer

Virtual stage design, interactive stage design, costume projection:

Büro Staubach, Berlin:
Overall realization

Nils Krüger:
Project Manager

Concept and production design:
Nils Krüger
Bernd Lintermann (Institut for Visual Media, ZKM Karlsruhe)
Joachim Sauter
Jan A. Schroeder
André Werner

André Berndhardt:
Development of the costume projections

Bernd Lintermann (Institut for Visual Media, ZKM Karlsruhe):
Development of the virtual architecture

Axel Schmidt:
Developement Trackingsystem Machiavelli

Andreas Kratky:
Texture Design


Thomas Seelig:
Live electronics

Eiko Morikawa:

Almut Krumbach:

Márta Rózsa:
Mezzo soprano

Maria Kowollik:

Tim Severloh:

Otto Katzameier:

Matthias Ambrosius:

Thomas Berg:

Nancy Sullivan:

Julian Riem:

Konstantinos Raptis:


Commissioned by the City of Munich, the GEMA Foundation and the Franz Grothe Foundation

Production by the Munich Biennale, in collaboration with Büro Staubach, Berlin and Art+Com Medientechnologie und Gestaltung AG Berlin, and with the support of Simon Penny, Jamieson Schulte and the Electronic Studio of the Technical University of Berlin.

Sponsored by funds from the Bavarian Theater Prize 2000.


Christopher Marlowe’s drama provided the subject matter for André Werner’s opera. The composer condensed the text, so that the main plot lines are highlighted: the relationship between the three monotheistic world religions and their intertwinements with power and politics. Werner also rearranged the sequence of the scenes, and thus the plot does not unfold in a linear fashion. Instead there is a system of anticipations, references, cross references and flashbacks. Machiavelli, who only speaks the prologue in Marlowe’s play, constantly intervenes in the course of the events as the “director” in Werner’s opera. He also controls the virtual stage sets in the beginning, which are as well as the costumes created by means of projections, but he loses control over the virtual stage more and more during the course of the opera.

Original at:

Full Text

Christopher Marlowe's drama from the year 1593 provides the subject matter for André Werner's chamber opera – a realistic, violent story. The governor of Malta and his grandees expropriate Barabbas, a wealthy Jewish merchant, because the city is unable to pay on its own the horrendous tribute the Turkish sultan demands. They turn the merchant's estate into a nunnery. Afterwards Barabbas' beautiful daughter Abigail sets foot on the property two more times: the first time in order to rescue hidden valuables, and the second time as a repentant, converted Catholic. The Spanish vice admiral, an envoy of the "Catholic King," advises the Maltese to not pay the tribute and to use the funds to finance a war against the Turks. Barabbas gets his revenge by guiding the sultan's troops into the city through a secret tunnel. In gratitude the victors appoint him governor. But Barabbas makes the suggestion to his now powerless predecessor that he should organize a coup against the Muslim occupation forces. But then the (former and new) Christian governor tricks him and he falls into the kettle of boiling water he had intended to use for the Ottoman army commander, the crown prince. Marlowe has his prologue spoken by a person who specialized in the philosophy of power: Giacomo Machiavelli.

Marlowe not only paints a clear portrait of his era from a precise, blatant viewpoint, but with a clarity that has no equal. He sheds a light on the general intertwinement of power and religion, and of the doctrine of salvation and political force, which is usually exercised in the dead of night. The drama was destined to produce controversy – at the time he wrote it, but also in subsequent times, up until the present day. The philosopher of these principles of power was Giacomo Machiavelli. He attained, unlike the others who moved in the wake or in the countercurrents of his writings, that the analysis of an evil prevented that evil from spreading.

André Werner wrote the libretto for his opera himself and based it on Eduard von Bülow's German translation of the Marlowe play. He did not choose any of the modernized translations. But he streamlined and concentrated the drama, and in doing so he highlighted the central plot lines and the central conflicts in the text.

"The comparison of three world religions, their power-political implications and their inherent mutual exclusion of each other form the basic elements in the stageplay by Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and this drama is the starting point for the chamber opera Marlowe: The Jew of Malta.

In my concept Machiavelli (almost a contemporary of Marlowe's!) – in the original play he doesn't appear again after his prologue – becomes the central "founder of worlds" and director, who over and over again interferes and directs the regulations of the experiment he initiated, an experiment having to do with religions and the acquisition of power, and in the end he is forced to relinquish his control over the events." (André Werner)

André Werner has not only shortened Marlowe's/ von Bülow's version and condensed it, he has also partially changed the order of the scenes. Excerpts from the beginning of the drama are placed at the end, and vice versa. Therefore the plot does not unfold in a linear fashion, but rather in a complex fashion, by means of anticipation and flashbacks, unfolding so to speak in the sphere of time, and we are in the center of this sphere. The Machiavelli character is present throughout the entire opera. The texts of his "resets," which he uses to squeeze himself in between the scenes of the other characters, evolve from fragments of his prologue and from building blocks of the other roles, which are influenced and directed by him. Their logic of language is not developed in a linear fashion as well, but rather it takes on meaning by cross-references and flashback references. Language breaks into pieces and loses the consistency of meaning already in the prologue. Perhaps it can be understood as being still associative, gestural or musical.

The process of the disintegration of meaning in language overlaps with another process: Machiavelli takes over passages that Marlowe assigned to other roles. He is and he becomes intertwined with the events – at first he is the "director," but then he becomes a slave of the same system he thinks he is superior to.

An actor and a countertenor portray Machiavelli, in principal omnipresent, in André Werner's opera. The four female vocalists alternately perform all of the other roles, the female as well as the male roles. There is no set assignment of voices and roles. The performers receive their visible individuality as characters in the play by means of projected costumes, and not by the "neutral" costume they have on. Their role is imposed on them externally, at first by Machiavelli.

The events in André Werner's chamber opera take place in "a sketched nunnery, which has the decisive quality of an architecture that constantly changes – thus the space exists exactly in the moment of its transformation.” The stage projection, of course, is not based on historical realism, but rather it uses the cloister as a metaphor for character, style, effect and exposure value of the space. By working with certain surfaces of intersection the virtual architecture manages, for example, to show exterior and interior views of a room simultaneously, to turn the rooms as if the viewer were moving within the rooms, and to change perspectives and keep them in motion.

“In order to translate this aesthetic ideal, here traditional music theater is interwoven with the use of state-of-the-art electronic means in a very precise manner: In addition to the use of a chamber orchestra and vocals, an artificial, "virtual" stage topography is created for the stage, and this stage topography is dependent upon the performers and musicians and is subject to constant change under the control of the participants. The respective stage setting is created and projected by the computers in real-time, and in the following moment it is replaced by yet another variation.

Whereas in the first part of the opera the Machiavelli character directs and influences 'his' virtual world, the real-time generated stage architecture (towards the end of the composition the chamber orchestra will be included in the events on the stage via microphone pick-ups) and the musical structures written into the score will take over the control of the stage settings (i.e., the computer), and thus 'dethrone' Machiavelli with regard to the contents of the opera." (André Werner)

Original at:

Bernd Lintermann