The Visit of the Old Lady

The Visit –
Drama with a vengeanceA wealthy woman seeking revenge.
An impoverished town hoping to profit from her fortune.
A deadly bargain driven by unrequited love.

 

INTRODUCTION

Transforming a haunting tale of human greed and fickleness into a romantic and enthralling musical thriller, VBW’s outstanding adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s timeless literary classic THE VISIT will guarantee one of the most exciting and unique musical experiences ever to be enjoyed.

The bankrupt Swiss town of Güllen is looking forward to an extraordinary event: Claire Zachanassian, a tremendously wealthy multibillionaire and the richest woman in the world, will soon be paying a visit to the ailing city where she used to live as a young girl many years ago. Preparing to welcome the city’s most renowned citizen, the residents are counting on imminent relief from their financial straits, having heard a great deal about Claire Zachanassian’s generous charitable activities. Everyone’s hopes are placed on Alfred Ill, a local shopkeeper intent on using his former relationship to Claire Zachanassian to the town’s benefit, counting on the fact that once, in his youth, he used to be a friend and lover of the fabled billionaire. Yet events take an unexpected turn upon Claire Zachanassian’s arrival: driven by old feelings of revenge towards Alfred, she holds out the prospect of a donation of two billion euros only under the condition that he be brought to justice–and that he die for the crimes he once committed.

With THE VIST, VBW brings a piece of world literature as an opulent musical thriller to the stage. Producing, of all plays, this particular tragicomedy as a musical has proved to be an exciting task for the entire creative team, especially since Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s acrid satire on human greed and fickleness as well as the dark and contradictory aspects of love has lost none of its relevance. On the contrary, it has gained even more actuality since its stage debut in 1956. Building upon the original play’s acrid moral core message and drawing striking parallels to present-day socio-political issues such as the recent global financial crisis and spectacular current banking scandals, VBW’s writing team Christian Struppeck (book), Wolfgang Hofer (lyrics), Moritz Schneider (music) and Michael Reed (music) have transformed Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s surprisingly timeless tale of love’s twisted ways into a poignant yet romantic and sensuous modern musical thriller that has rightfully earned enthusiastic critical and public acclaim right from the onset.

Focussing not only on Dürrenmatt’s disillusioned view of humanity but most of all on the underlying romantic context between the two main protagonists and their dark and twisted love story, THE VISIT raises a wealth of uncomfortable underlying issues. With its tagline “two billion euros–how far would you go?” THE VISIT poses a powerful question: can money buy justice? Are moral codes just fragile values, all too easily prone to be corrupted by power and wealth? And can vigilante justice ever be justified?

Merging an ever-relevant story about love, betrayal and revenge with a sumptuous score full of symphonic drama and power, offering vivid, fast-paced staging and witty, poignant dialog, featuring spectacular stage design and magnificent costumes, this high-profile musical version of a timeless literary classic will guarantee one of the most exciting and unique musical experiences ever to be enjoyed–a thrilling, cinematic masterpiece for the live stage!

Success Story & Production Notes

Converting Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s pessimistic social satire into a dark and twisted love story, VBW’s writing team has created a powerfully updated version of this timeless classic as a romantic and enthralling musical thriller.

Today considered one of the keystones of 20th-century German-language literature, Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s THE VISIT has inspired numerous adaptations for the stage as well as for the TV and movie screen. Led by VBW’s artistic director Christian Struppeck, an internationally renowned team set out to create a groundbreaking and powerfully updated version of this timeless classic as a romantic and enthralling musical thriller. It had its world premiere to much critical acclaim in 2013 at the Thun Festival in Switzerland. 2014 then saw the world opening of the grand theater version at the Ronacher in Vienna, Austria.

The team of authors Christian Struppeck, Wolfgang Hofer, Moritz Schneider and Michael Reed, who have already scored great success with the major Swiss musical production DÄLLEBACH KARI–THE MUSICAL (productions in Thun, Zurich and Bern; awards, among others, Best New Theater Production, Golden Spotlight, Best New Swiss Musical and Best World Premiere at the Glory Awards), attended to Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s masterpiece with uncompromising dedication, transforming the grim and dire play into a gripping, modern musical production, which is captivating due to its emotional melodies and electrifying, trenchant lyrics.

With the renowned opera director of the Salzburger Landestheater Andreas Gergen in charge of production and with choreography created by Simon Eichenberger, THE VISIT presents musical stars Pia Douwes and Uwe Kröger in the leading roles–in their first joint appearance in a major Vienna musical production since the legendary success of ELISABETH by VBW.

Press Review

"A grandiose premiere - Claire is highly welcome to visit again."

Heute, Austria

"What Dürrenmatt called a 'comedy of the financial boom' is as relevant as ever ... There is some evidence that fans of Elisabeth and Rebecca will also love this opulent musical thriller dealing with the heartbreak of a humanized goddess of vengeance."

Kurier, Austria

“THE VISIT is completely designed as a bombastic musical. The revolving stage moves flexibly between different locations, changing increasingly from the drab gray of the decaying Güllen to color and neon light when the villagers get ready to redecorate their place on credit. Also in musical terms, Michael Reed and Moritz Schneider rely on a grandiose musical gesture with hit potential...: dashing choir pieces, bass that will shake the auditorium’s abdomen and a sometimes cinematic impression when scenes fade musically into one another are quite reminiscent of ELISABETH...”

APA Press Agency

Author / ComposerChristian Struppeck, Wolfgang Hofer,
Moritz Schneider and Michael Reed:
The creative team behind THE VISIT

Christian Struppeck

Christian Struppeck is Artistic Director of VEREINIGTEN BÜHNEN WIEN (Vienna, Austria).

He has worked in the entertainment industry for more than 25 years, initially as an actor and singer, later as a director, creative developer, author, producer, creative consultant and Artistic Director.

Christian Struppeck was Artistic Director and Head of Creative Development at Stage Entertainment Germany, responsible for the artistic quality of 23 big German musical productions, such as MAMMA MIA!, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, DISNEY’S AIDA, DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES, WICKED.

He is creator, co-writer and director of the hit musical comedy ICH WAR NOCH NIEMALS IN NEW YORK (“I have never been to New York”), based on the song catalogue of Udo Jürgens, one of the most famous European singer and songwriters.

Christian Struppeck furthermore developed, together with Andreas Gergen, the musical comedy DER SCHUH DES MANITU (“Manitou’s Shoe”) and the biggest Swiss musical success DÄLLEBACH KARI, which was awarded “Best Theatrical Production of Switzerland” as well as “Best World Premiere”. And he wrote and developed the musical version of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s famous play THE VISIT (performances in Austria, Switzerland and Japan).

His latest work SCHIKANEDER - THE TURBULENT LOVE STORY BEHIND THE MAGIC FLUTE with music by Stephen Schwartz (WICKED) and directed by Trevor Nunn (CATS, LES MISERABLES) has premiered on 30th September 2016 at the Raimund Theater in Vienna (Austria).

Michael Reed

Having worked as a musical director with over 20 West End musicals (including The Phantom of the Opera), Michael Reed has also internationally supervised numerous musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber. As a conductor, he has worked with leading British orchestras and, for example, has recorded the original version of The Phantom of the Opera and the successful single Time to Say Goodbye with Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. In addition, Michael Reed has worked as a composer and arranger for movie and stage productions. In 1999 he won the Vivian Ellis Award for "Best Composer of the Year" and the Warner-Chappel Award for his musical Les Enfants du Paradis. He also served as musical supervisor and orchestrator for The Three Musketeers, Ich war noch niemals in New York, Dance of the Vampires and Moses. After Dällebach Kari – The Musical and Gotthelf – The Musical he was again working in Thun and Vienna for The Visit.

Moritz Schneider

Having composed numerous film scores, Moritz Schneider has received the Swiss Film Prize for the score for Breakout together with Swiss rap artist Stress and Bernese bass player Mich Gerber. For three years he wrote pop songs for various artists at Universal Music Publishing in Berlin. Together with Robin Hoffmann, with whom he also realized the award winning musical Dällebach Kari (awarded amongst others the "Prix Walo" and the "Golden Spotlight"), he has created various film scores for national and international productions. After the projects Lovebugs & Sinfonieorchester Basel, he founded the company Arts Festival together with Robert Emery in 2011, which spawned the project Seven & 21st Century Orchestra in fall 2013. Further concert projects by Moritz Schneider are being planned, as well as further production developments together with Michael Reed.

Wolfgang Hofer

Born in Linz and today living in Munich, Wolfgang Hofer has topped the charts in Austria as well as in Germany with his #1 Austropop hit Trödler Abraham. Subsequently, he wrote material for artists such as Salvatore Adamo, Gilbert Becaud, Howard Carpendale, Dieter Hallervorden, Harald Juhnke, Daliah Lavi, Mireille Mathieu, Nana Mouskouri, Wencke Myhre, Bud Spencer, Margot Werner, Udo Jürgens and many more. Numerous classics by Udo Jürgens and Wolfgang Hofer are also represented in the successful musical Ich war noch niemals in New York. Wolfgang Hofer has supervised several hundred TV shows as an author or consultant and, amongst other things, has collaborated with Thomas Gottschalk, Harald Schmidt, Günther Jauch and Michael Schanze. After Dirty Dancing (Hamburg) and Dällebach Kari (Thuner Seespiele) The Visit is his third musical work.

Credits & Key Facts

World opening
Open Air Version:

2013 Switzerland, Thun (Thun Festival)
World opening
Theater Version:

2014 Austria / Vienna (Ronacher/VBW)
Book & Creative Development: Christian Struppeck
Lyrics: Wolfgang Hofer
Music: Moritz Schneider & Michael Reed
Arrangement & Musical Supervisor: Michael Reed
Orchestrations: Michael Reed, Roy Moore & Martin Gellner
Based on the play: Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit) by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Director: Andreas Gergen
Choreography: Simon Eichenberger
Set Design: Peter J. Davison
Costume Design: Uta Loher & Conny Lüders
MakeUp: Ronald Fahm
Lighting Design: Mark McCullough
Sound Design: Thomas Strebel
Musical Director: Koen Schoots
Visitors worldwide: over 200,000
Shows worldwide: over 200
Countries: 3 (Austria, Japan, Switzerland)
Language versions: German, Japanese

Main Characters

Claire Zachanassian Alfred Ill Klaus Brandstetter, Teacher
A fabled multibillionaire, considered to be the richest woman in the world. She once had a love affair with Alfred Ill, who impregnated her but then successfully disputed the paternity in court. She left her hometown a broken, impoverished woman, but thanks to numerous marriages to rich men, she went on to become a billionaire. After decades away from her hometown, she returns to exact revenge on Alfred Ill. A general store owner and destitute citizen of Güllen. He is highly regarded in the town. However, his past is now catching up with him. He impregnated Claire, but managed to escape the responsibility of fatherhood by bribing witnesses. Due to the psychological pressure to which he is now subjected, he becomes suspicious and aggressive towards his fellow citizens and his reactions grow increasingly panicked. He begins to reflect on his past, recognizes his wrongdoing and ultimately accepts his destiny. The school teacher of the town and a member of the town council. Represents morality and humanistic foundations to the end. He abhors Claire’s immoral proposal and is appalled by the behaviour of the citizens of Güllen in response.
Mathilde Ill Matthias Richter, Mayor Gerhard Lang, Policeman
The kind, understanding wife of Alfred Ill. Runs the store alongside him, having brought it into their marriage. She supports him through his difficult times, is always there for him and is virtually the sole person to believe in him. He initially stands behind Alfred Ill and refuses to allow any harm to come to him. The opinions of the residents and the prospect of attaining such a fortune eventually erode his moral beliefs. He ultimately distances himself from Ill. The local policeman and a member of the town council. He is an old friend of Ill who initially supports him unconditionally, but begins to distance himself more and more by hiding behind the law and asserting that he is unable to protect him.
Johannes Reitenberg, Priest Toby, Roby and Loby Julia and Niklas Ill
Not only a clergyman but also a member of the town council, he, too, is initially against the offer and the perfidious conditions set by Claire, but becomes more and more ambivalent as the plot unfolds and allows himself to be blinded by the potential, impending wealth that may befall his church. Former gangsters who are now in the service of Claire as her bodyguards, secretaries and assistants. Somewhat strange, quasi frightening as well as charming and attractive figures. The daughter and son of Alfred and Mathilde Ill initially seem harmless and honest, but later turn out to be just as disingenuous and calculating as the other inhabitants of Güllen.
Young Claire Young Alfred  
As a young girl, Claire is self-confident, beautiful, artless and open-minded. She experiences her first, great love with Alfred. When she becomes pregnant unintentionally, Alfred leaves her. She must leave her hometown, injured and labelled as a whore. The hatred and vengeance of Claire Zachanassian has its roots in the story of “young Claire.” An attractive young man from a good home. He is impressed by Claire’s personality and fortitude. He does not stay with his great love when Claire becomes pregnant by him. He allows himself to be influenced by society and shows weak character.  

Synopsis

“The World is mine!”

ACT I ACT II

The arrival

The citizens of the little town of Güllen gather at the railway station in preparation for the arrival of a former resident, the billionairess Claire Zachanassian. They have high hopes that her visit will persuade her to rescue her old home town from its dire financial straits. She makes a suitably grand entrance, arriving too early and by helicopter, accompanied by three bodyguards and a black panther. Alfred Ill, a shopkeeper who runs a general store, has the task of persuading Claire to make Güllen a generous donation by reminding her of the love they shared many years earlier. Shortly afterwards, Alfred runs into Claire at the edge of the woods and they revive the memories of their past. Claire promises him to support Güllen. At a reception for Claire the citizens gossip excitedly as they wait for her to appear. Claire offers them two billion, in return for Alfred’s death. In a burst of moral outrage, her offer is categorically rejected. Alfred’s wife, Mathilde, stands by her husband and promises that she will always be there for him. The mayor consults the town councillors. They agree that, although the money would be a huge blessing, the price is too high and the subject should be dropped. However, the citizens of Güllen begin to run up enormous debts, splurging on material goods.

A shadow of the past

Meanwhile, in her hotel suite, Claire is engaged in international business affairs, when Alfred bursts in. They talk about the terrible accident that killed their unborn child and left Alfred believing Claire was dead. Alfred apologizes, but Claire demands justice for the suffering she endured. Claire’s offer begins to have an impact and Alfred feels increasingly under threat. He turns to the policeman, Gerhard Lang, for help and protection, asking him to arrest Claire because, given his fellow citizens’ mounting debts, his death will soon be the only way to pay them. The policeman denies that Claire’s offer was ever intended seriously and reminisces about old times and his lifelong friendship with Alfred. Suddenly a report reaches them that Claire’s black panther has escaped. A hunt is organized but Alfred suspects that he is the actual prey. In desperation, he turns to the mayor, Matthias Richter, but finds no help there, either. On the contrary, he discovers that the mayor is planning to build a new town hall. Alfred, in terror, flees to the priest, Johannes Reitenberg, for refuge and support. The priest advises him to pray and to concentrate on his spiritual salvation, but we learn that he, too, has been unable to resist the temptations of consumerism. Finally, the panther is tracked down and shot. The people mourn the noble animal’s death in a song, which Alfred takes for a funeral dirge sung for him. He seizes a gun and goes in search of Claire. He finds her in the woods and is resolved to kill her. Claire, who wears a prosthetic leg due to the former accident, loses her balance and falls over. As she lies helpless on the ground, she screams at Alfred to shoot her. They struggle with each other, but the fight turns into a passionate kiss. Claire recalls how they first met and the overwhelming love they felt for each other. Even so, she cannot escape the shadows of the past.

A futile escape attempt

Alfred Ill is unable to bear the pressure and decides to leave Güllen. The whole town is waiting for him at the station, ostensibly to wish him a safe journey. No one actively prevents him from leaving, but he is convinced he will be held back or shoved to the ground the moment he tries to board the train. The train–the last one this week–eventually leaves without him. Claire’s three bodyguards, Roby, Toby and Loby, are bored to tears by smalltown life and reminisce about the good times they have had. To avoid having to accept Claire’s immoral offer, the mayor and the teacher make her a proposal. They suggest she buy and reopen the town’s defunct factories. Claire rejects the proposal with the shocking disclosure that the factories already belong to her. All their pleas for humanity fall on deaf ears. Customers in Ill’s shop report that journalists are in town asking questions. The teacher has a breakdown and prophesizes in a drunken state that evil will triumph. The little girl Lena says she still believes in goodness; the important thing is not to give up. The town, anxious to preserve its reputation and the illusion of virtue, is determined not to let the press find out about Claire’s promised billions and the condition attached. The reporters’ questions are met by a united front praising Güllen as a temple of morality. Alfred, in particular, is ordered to hold his tongue and demonstrate his loyalty to the town. Alfred capitulates and accepts his guilt.

A fatal verdict

The mayor informs Alfred that the town is holding a special assembly to determine his guilt, since under the statute of limitations his crime was committed too long ago to be tried in court. If he is found guilty, he will have to pay for his actions. The town is unanimous that this is purely a question of justice and has nothing whatever to do with the promised billions they will receive if he dies. Alfred agrees to appear before the assembly and to accept the verdict whichever way it falls. The policeman suggests suicide as a convenient alternative but Alfred refuses to take the burden of decision from the citizens’ shoulders. He has overcome his fear and feels free at last. Alfred’s family has run up debts, too. His daughter is having tennis lessons and his son has bought a sports car. And both children think he is exaggerating. All they want is a bit of fun. After years of marriage, Alfred finally confesses to his wife that he never loved her and only married her for her money. Mathilde’s world falls apart. Her grief turns to fury and she expresses the hope that Alfred will get the punishment he deserves. Alfred and Claire meet once again at the edge of the woods and talk of their shared past, which neither has been able to escape. Alfred admits to Claire that she is the only one he has ever loved. He repents of his actions and admits that he was a coward. Together they evoke their past feelings, because love cannot die. But the tender mood cannot last. Claire has been too deeply hurt to simply forgive him. The town assembly sits in judgment on Alfred Ill, emphasizing that they are concerned purely with justice. Their task is to determine Alfred’s guilt and thereby to uphold morality in Güllen. The verdict is unanimous: guilty as charged. Claire bursts in to find Alfred lying lifeless on the floor. Having issued, as promised, a check over two billion euros to the city, she kneels beside him in a wave of grief while the citizens of Güllen rejoice that their town has been saved.