Composers and their stage works 

Peer Gynt

Henrik Ibsen (written. 1867, prod. 1876).

One of the acknowledged masterpieces of world literature, this five-act dramatic poem covers the lifetime of Peer Gynt and ranges over the entire globe for its settings and allusions.

Peer is a young Norwegian peasant farmer, lazy and boastful, though ingenuously charming. His long-suffering mother Aase rebukes him for lack of enterprise and points out that his shiftless ways have lost him the wealthy Ingrid of Hegstad, who is to be married the next day. Peer attends the country wedding feast, where he meets Solveig, a girl who is deeply attracted to him. But, to the consternation of the groom and the guests, Peer kidnaps the bride, abandoning her later in the wilderness.

A fugitive now in the Dovre Mountains, he courts, then abandons the daughter of the Troll King. Shortly after, he encounters the Great Boyg, a dark, formless force counselling the "roundabout" path. The Boyg is on the verge of destroying him when he is saved by the sound of a women's chorus, suggesting the feminine influences that both protect and permit Peer's charmed and adventurous life. Now an outlaw, he enjoys a brief respite from persecution in a forest dwelling, where he is joined by Solveig. But confronted by the vindictive Troll King's daughter, Peer tells his beloved she must wait for him and flees the country, stopping only to visit the aged Aase, whose death he softens by fantasying a sleigh ride into an imaginary heaven.

In middle life, Peer has become a dandified, aimless wanderer, with a dubious past given over to such practices as trafficking in slaves in America and sacred idols in China and selling rum and Bibles. He poses as a religious prophet in North Africa and enjoys a period of voluptuous dallying with the seductive Bedouin dancer Anitra, who soon deserts him, taking his money with her. His towering dreams and ambitions only lead him to confinement in a Cairo madhouse. Old and embittered by his fruitless odyssey, Peer returns to Norway. Here he plans to settle down and rest. However, he is intercepted by the ominous Button Moulder, who informs him that, neither evil enough for hell nor good enough for heaven, Peer is but an undeveloped self, like a badly cast button fit only to be melted down in the Master Moulder's ladle. He is saved from this oblivion by the redeeming love of Solveig, who has waited for him faith-fully; at the close of his life, Peer finally discovers his reason for being in her forgiving arms.