Synopsis

How do you love life — all of it?

ACT ONE. Turin, Italy. Forty-four-year-old Friedrich Nietzsche (Fritz) collapses to the ground, never to speak again. His sister Elisabeth returns from Paraguay to care for him. Determined to found a Nietzsche Archive, Elisabeth accosts Lou Salomé – the woman Fritz loved – demanding any letters Fritz wrote to her. Lou refuses (What Does It Take?).

The fight between Lou and Elisabeth triggers a series of flashbacks.

Fritz appears as a boy. His father dies. His brother dies. His mother assures him it’s God’s will. Fritz wants answers – even if it means leaving his beloved sister, Elisabeth, to go to boarding school (Good God).

At Schulpforta, Fritz questions his faith and anguishes over his future (Men of Pforta). He wants to be a musician. When he reads a book claiming music saves us from suffering, Fritz experiences philosophical ecstasy (The Sun Moved). He refuses to go to church; his mother despairs (In Your Mercy).

Fritz seeks out his musical idol, Richard Wagner, who persuades Fritz to forgo his musical aspirations and instead, write a book praising Richard (Genius). As Fritz accepts the challenge, the Franco-Prussian War begins. Fritz volunteers as a medic, and spends three days trapped in a boxcar comforting wounded soldiers who fear God’s wrath (Take Me Back). Fritz emerges convinced that music alone can save us from the violent Christian nationalism fueling the war. Elisabeth cares for Fritz, and Fritz finishes his first book, Birth of Tragedy.

Several years later, at the grand opening of Richard’s opera house in Bayreuth, Richard misrepresents Fritz’s book, claiming it supports a “pure” German culture. Horrified, Fritz breaks with Richard and befriends Paul Rée, a Jewish intellectual. Elisabeth befriends the anti-Semitic activist, Bernhard Forster (Changes).

Paul encourages Fritz to write his own philosophy (Open Sea), and introduces Fritz to a young philosopher, Lou Salomé (A Woman’s Philosophy). Fritz falls in love. Elisabeth’s jealousy swells (Last to Know). Fritz makes plans to spend a month with Lou, and unaware of Elisabeth’s ire, invites her to be their chaperone (Eternally Recurring).

ACT TWO. Upon meeting (Changes – reprise), Elisabeth and Lou detest one another (I See Through You). As Lou and Fritz grow closer (Eternally Recurring – reprise), Elisabeth, urged on by her mother, sabotages the couple’s relationship by writing hostile letters to Lou, Fritz, and Paul, planting suspicions among them (Who Loves You?). Elisabeth succeeds. Lou and Paul leave town without Fritz. Fritz is heart-broken. While Elisabeth pursues a relationship with Bernhard (Completely Yours), Fritz finds solace the only way he can – writing his masterpiece, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Say Yes!).

Elisabeth marries Bernhard and sails with him to Paraguay to establish a colony for the pure German race (Queen of the Colony 1,2). Devastated by his sister’s actions, Fritz enters a period of manic creativity, desperate to denounce hate in all forms (At the Edge), until collapsing in a repetition of the opening scene.

His colony failing, Bernhard commits suicide. Elisabeth returns to Germany (Queen 3) to care for Fritz, and yokes Fritz’s work to the nationalist causes Fritz abhorred.

Returning to the present, Lou vows to refute Elisabeth’s lies by writing Fritz’s biography (Even Now). The ensemble celebrates the ongoing labor of learning to love life – all of it (Free Spirits).