German-Jewish essayist, philosopher, and critic Walter Benjamin was one of the early 20th century's most influential thinkers, a light in the darkness of looming war and political oppression. In Benjamin, dernière nuit, composer Michel Tabachnik and librettist Régis Debray examine this life cruelly cut short by despair in the face of Nazism. Experience the opera here in its highly acclaimed 2016 premiere production at the Lyon Opera.
Benjamin, dernière nuit begins at the end: with a tableau of the body of Benjamin in a Port-Bou hotel room following his suicide. After the opening scene, the opera returns to earlier in the evening: Benjamin’s arrival at the hotel, greeted by a menacing innkeeper. Informed that the Spanish authorities are coming to deport him back to France and into the hands of the Nazis, he decides to end his life, poisoning himself with an overdose of morphine tablets. Joined on stage by his doppelganger (the Walter Benjamin singer), the actor Benjamin reminisces about meetings with various friends and colleagues (among them Arthur Koestler, Bertolt Brecht, André Gide, Hannah Arendt) from the past year in a morphine-induced reverie, with the singer Benjamin reenacting the past in front of him. The actor Benjamin slowly expires, but the singer survives to the end of the opera, living on as a symbol of the philosopher's contemporary relevance.
Photo © Stofleth / Opéra national de Lyon