Dantons Tod (German for Danton's Death) is an opera by composer Gottfried von Einem. Librettists: Boris Blacher and Gottfried von Einem (after Büchner). Its first performance took place in Salzburg, August 6, 1947. It was revised in 1955.
The successful premiere of Gottfried von Einem's opera Dantons Tod at the 1947 Salzburg Festival and its quick staging by European houses were due to more than the strong drama of Einem's score. This was a first step toward the rehabilitation of German musicians after the second world war: an opera by a young Austrian composer who had not collaborated in the former regime's cultural policies. Dantons Tod dramatizes legalized governmental terror, a plague which the world at the time realized had not been eradicated with the end of the war.
Dantons Tod was adapted from Georg Büchner's play by Einem and his teacher, composer Boris Blacher. The protagonist is Georges Danton, a leader in the French government during the Revolution. When he turned against Robespierre's tactics--including terror--he was guillotined in April 1794. The opera's first act establishes Danton's confrontation with Robespierre. In the first scene Danton and Camille Desmoulins express their desire for an end of the daily executions to a group of their friends playing cards. Scene two introduces the volatile crowd. Robespierre enters and in an aria sways the crowd and promises more executions. Danton confronts him. After Danton leaves, Robespierre and his colleague Saint-Just decide that he and Camille must be killed. In the last scene of the act Danton announces to Camille and his wife Lucille that he is to be arrested, but he refuses to flee.
Act two depicts Danton's trial and death. Two scenes before the Revolutionary Tribunal are separated by one with Danton and Camille in prison. Lucille comes to see Camille; she has lost her reason. In the trial scenes the crowd swings between demanding Danton's death and falling under the spell of his eloquent oratory. At the end, in the Place de la Revolution, the condemned prisoners sing the Marseillaise in counterpoint to the crowd dancing the Carmagnole. Danton and Camille are guillotined. After the crowd disperses, Lucille enters and sits on the steps of the guillotine. She cries Es lebe der Konig (Long live the king) and is arrested as the curtain falls.
Einem revised the score slightly after the premier, replacing an orchestral prelude with the chords that now open the opera, cutting an orchestral passage after Danton's death, and revising the final scene with Lucille. These changes make for a more dramatic beginning and ending and add to a score that deserves more frequent revivals than it has seen to date.
A recording is available from Allegro Corporations, Opear D'Oro. The cast includes Paul Schoffler as Danton, Julius Patzak as Desmoulins and Mara Cebotari as Lucille. This is a live recording taken from the premiere in Salzburg on August 6, 1947 with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna State Opera Chorus conducted by Ferenc Fricsay.