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date: 22 October 2019

Zwerg, Der (‘The Dwarf’)locked

  • Alfred Clayton

Extract

(‘The Dwarf’)

Opera in one act, op.17, by Alexander Zemlinsky to a libretto by Georg Klaren after Oscar Wilde’s novel The Birthday of the Infanta; Cologne, Neues Theater, 28 May 1922.

The origins of Der Zwerg lie in Zemlinsky’s obsession with ugliness. Significantly, Alma Mahler referred to Zemlinsky himself in her memoirs as ‘a horrible dwarf’. He may first have come across Wilde’s story in 1908, when Schreker’s pantomime Der Geburtstag der Infantin was first performed in Vienna. Three years later Zemlinsky commissioned Schreker to write a libretto on the subject of ‘the tragedy of the ugly man’. This crystallized in Die Gezeichneten, which Schreker decided to set himself; its principal character, Alviano, bears a striking resemblance to the Dwarf. Zemlinsky’s involvement in the origins of Die Gezeichneten goes some way towards explaining why Klaren’s libretto differs significantly from Wilde’s story. In Klaren’s version the Infanta is no longer a girl but a young woman whose cruelty is premeditated. The Dwarf is no longer a charming natural monster but a much more complex and indeed civilized being. Zemlinsky’s emotional identification with the hero also suggests why the work seems so highly charged. In a letter to his publisher Emil Hertzka he confessed that it differed from ...

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