German expressionist composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann based his powerful, wrenching music drama on the 18th-century play of the same name by J.M.R Lenz. Die Soldaten follows the fortunes of Marie, a naïve young woman from a small town, whose desire for a life beyond her provincial sphere leads to a relationship with an unscrupulous military officer, precipitating a downward spiral to prostitution and degradation. In Zimmermann's conception, the opera moves beyond a melodramatic tale of class consciousness to an outcry at the brutality that man visits on his fellow man. It is also considered as one of the signal musical expressions of the horror of World War II.
A pioneering work at its creation -- with a huge orchestra, challenging score and vocal writing, overlapping and simultaneous scenes, and incorporating film, taped music and amplification -- Die Soldaten has continued to present enormous challenges to presenters. In Germany, the opera was performed in a former gas power plant of a steelworks factory. The audience was seated on platforms placed on a system of railroad tracks, allowing them to move into and out of the stage action. It has only been staged twice in the U.S. since its 1965 premiere by the Cologne Opera-- its U.S. premiere by the Opera Company of Boston in 1982, and by New York City Opera in 1991, in both cases, departing from the composer's vision. Die Soldaten will be re-created for the Lincoln Center Festival in the enormous, vaulted, former Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory -- a space uniquely suited for the monumental production.
The Park Avenue Armory setting will provide an immersive experience by allowing the full orchestra complement to be in placed with the audience and stage action. The movable seating on railway tracks, impossible in a traditional theater setting, will enable the audience to experience the extremes of intimacy and overwhelming all-enveloping sound, and the meshing of scenic action, that the composer envisioned.