The Bassarids (in German: Die Bassariden) is an opera in one act and an intermezzo, with music by Hans Werner Henze to an English libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, after Euripides‘s The Bacchae.The conflict in the opera is between human rationality and emotional control, represented by the King of Thebes, Pentheus, and unbridled human passion, represented by the god Dionysus.
The setting is ancient Thebes. Prior to the opera, Dionysus has stated that he intends to revenge himself upon Agave and the women of Thebes because they have denied his divinity.At the start of the opera, Cadmus, King of Thebes, has abdicated his throne in favour of his grandson Pentheus. Pentheus has learned of the cult of Dionysus, which involves wild and irrational revelry. Pentheus plans to ban the cult from his city. A stranger arrives in town and seduces the citizens into increasingly frenetic celebration of the god Dionysus. Because Pentheus is unaware of his own irrational, “Dionysiac” impulses, or tries to suppress them, Dionysus can entrance Pentheus and intrude upon his nature to the point that Pentheus disguises himself as a woman, and goes to Mount Cytheron, where the revelry is occurring. In the course of events, the spell over the citizens extends to Agave, Pentheus’ mother, and Autonoe, Pentheus’ sister. Pentheus is killed and torn to pieces, and his city brought to ruin. Without realising it, Agave cradles the severed head of her son in her arms. The Stranger is revealed to be Dionysus himself.
Komische Oper Berlin