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Helena Havlíková

Opera in five acts by Jiří Pauer to his own libretto after Jan Bor’s play of the same name; Prague, National Theatre, 30 December 1958.

The opera, set during the years 1587–1620, deals with the love between Petr Vok (baritone), head of the powerful Rožmberk family, and the lowly country girl Zuzana (dramatic soprano). Refusing to be bound by convention, Zuzana gives Petr an heir. Vok’s wife (contralto) secretly kidnaps the child; meanwhile the situation has angered and alienated Zuzana’s former lover and betrothed, Ondrej (tenor). After Vok’s death Zuzana is driven out of the castle, but at the end of her life she sees Ondrej and her son again and finds lasting peace.

Composed between 1954 and 1957, Zuzana Vojířová is based on a highly successful historical play written during the German occupation. Pauer completely revised the work in 1978, and it was one of the most frequently performed Czech operas until the end of the 1970s. Pauer viewed opera within a socialist culture as a means to provide a social forum and platform on which to play out the ethical and ideological struggle for the improvement of humanity. In this sense, ...

Article

Alfred Clayton

(‘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 ...

Article

Elizabeth Norman McKay

(‘The Twin Brothers’)

Posse in one act by Franz Schubert to a libretto by Georg von Hofmann after a French vaudeville Les deux Valentins; Vienna, Kärntnertortheater, 14 June 1820.

Schubert received this, his first theatrical commission, at the end of 1818 and completed the work in January 1819. The naive plot is a love story in a pastoral setting complicated by problems of mistaken identity: twin brothers, Franz and Friedrich (played by the one baritone soloist), return separately to their village, the first of them expecting to marry Lieschen (soprano), who is already betrothed to Anton (tenor). Schubert was surely incapable of composing the simple, tuneful melodies and light accompaniments customary in the artless verse patterns of plays of this type. He adopted instead the romantic Singspiel style of such composers as Weigl and Gyrowetz, responding more to the love interest than to the farcical element, thus creating an imbalance between text and music. The rhapsodical sentiments of the young lovers drew him to add new if not entirely appropriate dimensions to the play: tender, lyrical melodies, fine tone-painting which includes nature imagery of great charm, and ensembles in which he used some of the techniques of Rossini, whose operas were becoming increasingly popular in Vienna. The finest music comes in Lieschen’s aria (no.3) ‘Der Vater mag wohl immer Kind mich nennen’, in the brilliant little quartet (no.5) ‘Zu rechter Zeit bin ich gekommen’, and in the energetic quintet with chorus (no.9) ‘Packt ihn, führt ihn vor Gericht’....