Senza sangue Redux

Opera in one act
for two singers and orchestra

Reduction by Gregory Vajda

The original is commissioned by New York Philharmonic, KölnMusik GmbH


World premiere:
29 April 2021, Munich
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Conductor: Peter Eötvös
Viktória Vizin, Russell Braun


Libretto: Mari Mezei (based on the novel of Alessandro Baricco)
Language: Italian


“Bartók’ Bluebeard’s Castle is one of the most frequently staged operas. As this one-act work lasts only for about 60 minutes, another one-act piece is to be performed before it, as Bartók’s opera can only be followed by complete silence, a retreat into ourselves.
All nights at the opera must constitute a single unit, which is a given with multi-act pieces. For this reason, juxtaposing Bluebeard’s Castle against a musically or theatrically contrasting work would be a big mistake. As there was no existing composition available, for about 10-15 years I was searching for a literary work that could make a single dramaturgical unit with Béla Balázs and Bartók’s piece.


The protagonist of the story Nina escapes the murderers of her bother and father as a young girl by seeking shelter in a hole in the ground. One of the attackers notices her, but does not betray her. Decades later the girl meets the man in a lottery shop. The recognition terrifies him. His fellow murderers are long dead and the circumstances of their deaths were not clear: will Pedro be the next? The original text of the novel was shaped by Eötvös’ constant creative partner and wife, Maria Mezei. She created a libretto that has the cross-examination and mutual understanding of the female and male protagonist’s trauma in its main focus. The opera begins with the meeting of the two main characters and with flashbacks of the murders. The viewer does not know whether the woman is actually behind the deaths of the man’s accomplices, nor what her next step is going to be.


Scene I. A 72-year-old vendor of lottery tickets is approached by a woman in her sixties who says she wants to buy a ticket. Very soon, however, it turns out that this is only a pretext. These two obviously have a long history together. They haven’t seen each other in decades, yet they instantly recognize each other. The Woman persuades the Man to close his kiosque and have a cup of coffee with her.


29 Apr, 2021
Munich, Germany

Eötvös: Senza Sangue Redux

Bartók: Bluebeard's Castle Redux
Viktória Vizin, Russel Braun, Krisztián Cser
Cond: Peter Eötvös
BR Symph. Orchestra
Herkules Hall



48 minutes

Publisher information


Donna: mezzo-soprano
Uomo: lyric baritone


TITLE Dur. Soloists & choir fl ob cl bcl bn   hn tpt tbn tba   perc pf hp   vn1 vn2 va vc db Other Tech
Senza sangue Redux
Opera - Music Theatre
48'mezzo,​ bariton22302 2221 201 86543celesta

2 flutes ((2nd also altflute, both also piccolos)
2 oboes (2nd also English horn)
3 clarinets in A (3rd also bassclar.)
2 bassoons (2nd also contrabassoon)
2 horns in F
2 trumpets in B (2nd also Flugelhorn)
2 trombones
1 tuba
1 harp
1 celesta
3 timpani (one player)
2 percussion
Strings: 8-6-5-4-3

Further information

Senza sangue (‟Without Blood”) is Peter Eötvös’s twelfth work for the musical stage. Jointly commissioned by the organization KölnMusik and the New York Philharmonic, the opera was performed in concert on both sides of the Atlantic before its staged premiere at the Avignon Festival in May 2016.

In his previous theatrical projects, Eötvös has used texts in Russian, English, French, German, and Japanese; with the present work, he has returned to Italian for the first time since Radames (1975, rev. 1997), in which he had incorporated some elements of Verdi’s Aida.

Senza sangue is based on the eponymous novel by the award-winning Italian writer Alessandro Baricco (b. 1958), who has also been active, among other things, as a music critic. Mari Mezei’s libretto focuses on the second half of the novel, in which the two characters meet again after many years. Baricco’s novel is set in some unnamed country; the author has stressed that all events and characters are fictitious. The characters have Spanish names ‟only for the sake of their sound” and, according to Baricco, they need not imply any particular geographical location.

The opera has some striking parallels with Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartók. Both one-acters have only two characters in them—a man and a woman. In both cases, the female character’s family has vanished (Judith has abandoned her parents and brother; Nina’s father was killed). As a consequence, both women end up in situations where the only person they have left in the world is a murderer. The connection between the two works is clinched by the pointed exchange ‟Are you afraid?”—‟No, I’m not afraid” which, appearing shortly before the end of Eötvös’s opera, is a literal quote from Bluebeard. Only this time, it is the Woman who asks the question and the Man who replies.

What draws the Man and the Woman to one another is their shared obsession with the events of half a century ago: neither the perpetrator nor the victim can ever forget those events, and both spend their entire lives under the terrible weight of the past. But while the Woman has had a turbulent life, filled with additional traumas, we find out nothing about what has happened to the Man since the war. He has been eking out a modest life as a vendor of lottery tickets, waiting for the moment when she would show up at his kiosque.

Senza sangue is divided into seven scenes, with an orchestral introduction and epilogue. The introduction bears the title ‟Invocation to Henri Dutilleux,” in honor of the great French composer who passed away at the age of 97 shortly before Eötvös’s opera was written. The music begins, pointedly, with the interval B-D (or, to use the German note names, H-D, Dutilleux’s initials). Out of this interval grows a suspenseful prelude presaging the dramatic tensions that will soon erupt as we meet the two protagonists.

The vocal lines are mostly kept simple and follow the speech patterns of the Italian language, with the exception of the Woman’s monologue (Scene III), where she sings a long arioso melody to the most philosophical passage in the book. Much of the drama is expressed by the instruments. Eötvös uses a large orchestra, with special emphasis on the brass (including a flugelhorn) and an extensive percussion battery. It is significant that the orchestra has the last word in the opera: as the Man and the Woman disappear in their hotel room, we hear a powerful orchestral epilogue, filled with sharp accents and violent instrumental screams. All the suffering of these two people has been caused by an insane war, fuelled by an utterly unrealistic and misguided belief in building ‟a better world.” The epilogue leaves us wondering whether the wounds inflicted by that senseless struggle will ever heal.

/Peter Laki/




Opera Grand Avignon, 2016, Cond: Peter Eötvös

World Premiere of Senza sangue – 2015

Image gallery