Libretto by Winfried Bauernfeind based on the ancient Chinese didactic drama by Ma Chi-Yuan (14th century) in the translation by Hans Rudelsberger (G)
Between 1965 and 1972 four operas by Isang Yun were premiered in Germany: Der Traum des Liu-Tung (Berlin, 1965), Die Witwe des Schmetterlings (Nuremberg, 1969), Geisterliebe (Kiel, 1971), and Sim Tjong (Munich, 1972). The first three operas were German translations (and adaptations) of subject matter from classical Chinese literature, while Yun’s fourth and last opera featured the Korean heroine Sim Tjong. Here, for the first time in the history of European opera, we encounter libretti based on authentic sources from China. Nevertheless, the original Asian material was so greatly modified, reworked, and concentrated during its adaptation for the opera that it is also here that a "third space" opens up — something new and foreign requiring mediation both in East Asia and in Europe. This third space aims at endowing a new Korean culture with its identity.
Parabolic archaism lends its imprint in particular to Der Traum des Liu-Tung. The textual source was Hans Rudelsberger’s translation (Vienna, 1924) of dramatic works by Ma Zhi-Yuan (ca. 1250 – ca. 1321). Ma Zhi-Yuan’s drama known as Huang liang mong was one of a number of adaptations of the novel of the same name from the Tang dynasty (618 – 907). In the novel the student Lu (Lu sheng) meets the old man Lue (Lue Wong) at an inn in the town. When Lu complains about his misfortune, Lue takes a pillow from his bag and tells Lu that he will feel better if he sleeps on it. While the owner of the inn steams yellow millet, Lu falls asleep on the pillow and dreams of a happy marriage, a great career, and his death at an advanced age. When Lu reawakens, the yellow millet has not yet finished cooking. Over the following thousand years a number of dramas based on this source were written, with almost all of them associating the figure of Lue Yen, one of the eight immortals of Chinese folk religion, with the old man Lue (or with the student Lu).
The libretto of Isang Yun’s Der Traum des Liu-Tung was prepared by Winfried Bauernfeind, the later stage manager of the German Opera in Berlin, on the basis of Rudelsberger’s translation. (Its production was also his first staging project.) The relatively static nature of scene and music is unusual; it is a factor of the urgency and enormous seriousness of the setting of texts yielding what Harald Kunz, Yun’s later librettist, termed a "learning piece." The work’s static nature reflects Yun’s admiration for the Japanese tradition of the No (Noh) theater and its slow processes, its extended time. In his conversations with Luise Rinser, Yun named certain song types for certain parts and a sort of guiding instrumentation, both of essential importance to him, as well as the transitions and gradations between speaking and singing. "Every figure, every voice has a specific musical atmosphere deriving from its character. Thus, there are song types. In Liu-Tung the hermit is surrounded by a sound atmosphere lent its liturgical colouring by low brass instruments and percussion instruments. The female lead obtains her lyrical sound world from the flute, harp, and oboe. I employed this principle for the first time in Liu-Tung; it became increasingly more apparent in the later operas."
Prelude. In heaven. The immortal Tung-Hua assigns the hermit Ching-Yang the task of converting the student Liu-Tung.
Transformation. The innkeeper’s wife Wang and the merchant Pien-Fu are at the inn. Liu-Tung (high baritone) joins them and meets Ching-Yang. A conversation about the goals and meaning of life begins — for Liu Tung these are honour, love, power, and wealth; for Ching-Yang, the Tao.
First Dream Vision. Liu-Tung, who has been married to Tsui-Wo for eighteen years, is supposed to go off to war. His wife solemnly hands over to him her "father’s victorious weapon," the sword. Kao (= Ching-Yang), his father-in-law, gives him wine to drink. When he realizes that wine confuses the senses, Kao asks him to abstain from wine, and Liu-Tung solemnly promises to do so.
Second Dream Vision. Tsui-Wo, Liu-Tung’s wife, has taken a lover (Kuei) during her husband’s absence. Her lover flees on Liu-Tung’s return. When Liu-Tung, angry and hurt, is about to kill his wife, the old servant Yuan (= Ching-Yang) keeps him from doing so. Liu-Tung then renounces the passion of hate.
Third Dream Vision. In the imperial court Liu-Tung is accused of having sold victory in battle for material advantages. Liu-Tung curses gold and wealth. When the executioner is about to kill him, Yuan (= Ching-Yang) appears and keeps the sentence from being carried out with the words, "Back from him there, who belongs to the heavenly beings."
Fourth Dream Vision. Liu-Tung, who has lost his way in storm and snow, meets the woodcutter Lu (= Ching-Yang), who teaches the wanderer that the right path can only be that of the Tao. At the door of a cottage Liu-Tung asks for a cup of tea, but the woman who lives there warns him about her son Wu-Sung (= Ching-Yang). Wu-Sung stabs Liu-Tung with his sword while stating, "You have renounced wine and love, honor and riches; today you will also renounce life."
Postlude. Liu-Tung awakes in the inn and learns that he has slept for eighteen years "Now I understand: Life is a dream! Honorable father, I have converted to the Tao, show me the way."