Die ersten Menschen

Rudi Stephan, Dutch National Opera

An erotic mystery

The first two humans on earth were in love. The third man killed the fourth. Die ersten Menschen tells the story of the first family in the biblical history of mankind: Adahm and Chawa and their sons Kajin and Chabel. In Die ersten Menschen, the well-known Bible story of Kajin's murder of his brother is interpreted from a completely different angle. In an exceptionally fascinating opera, the promising, but too early deceased composer Rudi Stephan opens up a rich musical world about one of man's primal conflicts. 

The story
Die ersten Menschen is set in a vast primeval landscape, where the first family on earth cannot avoid mutual confrontation. Chawa feels estranged from Adahm and longs for their younger years. Sons Kajin and Chabel have very different views on life. Kajin feels close to nature and is filled with sexual desire, while Chabel lives by his religious beliefs and fulfils the role of the perfect son. Kajin finds in his mother the archetypal woman he has been searching for and is jealous of his mother's love for Chabel. The envy drives him to kill his own brother. Left alone, Adahm and Chawa understand what awaits mankind. 

Performance schedule to be announced
The Dutch premiere of Die ersten Menschen will take place on 3 June. If the situation allows for an audience to attend, there will be extra performances. The premiere will also be live streamed on 3 June. If it will be possible to welcome an audience in Nationale Opera & Ballet, then the performance schedule will be published. Therefor information about ticket sales will be announced on a later date.

Background information

Rudi Stephan
A tragic feeling of unfulfillment hangs over Rudi Stephan's (1887-1915) artistic achievements. The German composer was only 28 years old when he died at the front in the First World War. He had then just completed his first opera, Die ersten Menschen, which would not have its world premiere until after his death. Much work by and about Stephan was lost in the two wars. The little material that has survived shows his distinctive musical language. This suggests that in a longer life he could have left his mark on the developments of the classical music of his time. Die ersten Menschen has been performed very little; the last staged performance of the work took place in 1988. The masterpiece will finally be presented again in this new production of Dutch National Opera. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, which has performed orchestral work by Stephan before, is looking forward to performing this rich opera score. The musical direction is in the hands of François-Xavier Roth, who makes his DNO debut with this performance.

Erotisches Mysterium
The German author Otto Borngräber (1874-1916) gave his libretto, based on a play of his own, the subtitle 'Erotisches Mysterium'. In his symbolic interpretation of the Bible story, he was clearly inspired by the psychoanalysis that celebrated its heyday in his time – Freud is heard in the background. Borngräber shows how the primeval family is torn apart by the tension between the sexual urge and the greedy life on the one hand, and a life dedicated to the spiritual on the other. Two brothers who, in the narrow circle of the family, stand for two completely different views of life. The erotic and incestuous nature of the story caused a great deal of controversy during the performance of the play and led to intervention by the censorship. 

Calixto Bieito
With his staging of Die ersten Menschen, Spanish theatre and opera director Calixto Bieito will make his debut with Dutch National Opera in a production tailored to the corona situation. Bieito became world renowned for his radical and moving interpretations of classical operas. His work is characterised by a strong physical, visual and confrontational theatrical language. Exploring the darkest sides of human desire, Bieito's productions go under the skin. With a cast of four top singers and stage personalities returning to DNO, this production promises to be a thrilling “Ausgrabung”.

The Holland Festival presented Bieito’s work before: The String Quartet’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety (2018).


Otto Borngräber
musical direction
François-Xavier Roth
stage director
Calixto Bieito
set design
Rebecca Ringst
Ingo Krügler
Michael Bauer
Sarah Derendinger
Kyle Ketelsen (Adahm), Leigh Melrose (Cain), Annette Dasch (Chawa), John Osborn (Chabel)
music performed by
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
images and videos
Jon Noorlander
movement concept and execution
Tamar Blom, Koen van der Heijden
motion capture registration


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