Ha! Pizarro’s Revenge

Pizarro, the tyrant steps into the dungeon where his prisoner shall face his last moments and know—at least this is Pizarro’s plan—who will murder him with a dagger and the language of revenge. Read part six of the series about the linguistics of Fidelio, Beethoven’s only opera.

Ha, welch ein Augenblick!


die Rache kühlen = lit. to cool revenge. “Revenge has cooled” means the avenger has satisfied his urge for revenge.
Geschick n = here: fate
wühlen = to rummage
dahinstrecken sep. = here: to lay out, to strike to the floor

Ha, welch ein Augenblick!
Die Rache werd ich kühlen,
dich rufet dein Geschick!
In seinem Herzen wühlen,
O Wonne, großes Glück!

The prospect of killing his enemy thrills Pizarro so much that out of the first five lines, three end with an exclamation mark—the first after he cries out in excitement over the moment (Augenblick) that has finally arrived, the next after he evokes the fate that calls (rufet) Florestan. By beginning the sentence with dich (Florestan’s pronoun du when it receives an action), Pizarro seems to point at his victim, the receiver of fate’s call. Exhilarated by his imaginings he does not need a subject for in seinem Herzen wühlen as long as there is Wonne and Glück (happiness) and an exclamation mark. Of course, the subject, the person who is doing wühlen, is he, Pizarro.

Schon war ich nah, im Staube,
dem lauten Spott zum Raube,
dahingestreckt zu sein.

He looks back on a moment in which he was almost humiliated. He was nah (close) im Staube dahingestreckt zu sein (to be laid out in the dust). Why? What happened? After Staube he places a comma and inserts extra information, the phrase dem lauten Spott zum Raube, two nouns in the dative case. This tells us they cannot be active in the sentence. He fell victim to a Raub, a kind of a robbery, and the robber is Spott (mockery). We do not know what the mockery was about, but it came close to bringing down Pizarro.

Nun ist es mir geworden,
den Mörder selbst zu morden;
in seiner letzten Stunde,
den Stahl in seiner Wunde,
ihm noch ins Ohr zu schrein:
Triumph! Der Sieg ist mein!

The steel in Florestan’s heart, the cry of victory—these images of triumph spur him on to the murder he is about to commit. The first line is the most important one in helping us understand what drives Pizarro, and it is strange as well: he could say, “Now it is my intention” or something similar, but once Rocco has declined to kill the prisoner, and with the minister’s arrival looming, Pizarro feels it is destiny that guides his actions: now, “it (es) has become (geworden) to him,” meaning it has become his fate to act. To finish this thought, he has to precede the verbs morden and schreien with zu. It has become his fate to murder and to scream. 

Listen to Ha! Welch ein Augenblick! sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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