The Literary Model

One of the great philosophical and progressive works dealing with the ideas of humanism and tolerance in the subject of an interreligious drama of relationships is Lessing's "Nathan the Wise". As the basis of this play, Lessing borrows Giovanni Boccaccio's Ring Parable from the 14th-century volume of short stories entitled "Decameron". In terms of content, however, Lessing is concerned with the continuation of the so-called fragment dispute that he carries on with the Hamburg senior pastor Johann Melchior Goeze, a representative of the Orthodox Lutheran theology. The origin of the fragment dispute was the writings of the Hamburg secondary school teacher Hermann Samuel Reimarus, to whom Lessing entrusted the anonymous publication of his writings "Apology or Caveat for the Reasonable Devotee of God". Lessing published a number of these treatises in the magazine that he directed entitled "On History and Literature: From the Treasures of the Ducal Library in Wolfenbüttel". In particular, the fourth contribution met with fierce criticism. Although Lessing comments on the "anonymous" contributions were critical, he was held responsible for Reimarus' treatises as regards their content. When the dispute escalated in 1778, Lessing was denied freedom from censorship for the contributions; at the same time, he was generally banned from publishing anything having to do with the area of religion. He continued the discussion with the drama "Nathan the Wise" as a work of literature.


For the creation of the opera, we were essentially interested in the interreligiously developed narrative framework of Lessing's drama "Nathan the Wise" and the Ring Parable contained within it. We have eliminated most of the verbose remarks regarding the fragment dispute, thus attaining not only a text length adequate for an opera, but also definitely fulfilling our reason for creating it - as a call for interreligious tolerance and brotherhood. The opera libretto results from approximately forty percent of the full text. The original verses of the drama have been essentially retained, with a few bridges inserted for the sake of comprehensibility. The tableau of actors was also reduced, and now consists of Nathan, the wise Jew; Sultan Saladin, the ruler over Jerusalem; a young Templar granted a reprieve by the Sultan; the Christian patriarch of Jerusalem; Recha, the assumed Christian daughter of Nathan; Daja, the Christian companion of Recha; a monk and Sittah, the sister of Sultan Saladin.