Der Zwerg

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This article is about the opera by Zemlinky. For the Schubert song, see der Zwerg (Schubert).

Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), Op.17 is an opera in one act by Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky to a libretto by Georg Klaren, freely adapted from the short story "The Birthday of the Infanta" by Oscar Wilde.

Composition history[edit]

Zemlinsky's choice of this story was a reflection of the end of his relationship with Alma Mahler, and the identification he felt with the drama's main character.[1] He completed the short score in December 1919 and the orchestration in January 1921.[2] The score was published by Universal Edition Vienna.[3]

Performance history[edit]

The opera's premiere took place on 28 May 1922 at the Stadttheater in Cologne, Germany under the baton of Otto Klemperer. Its last performance in Zemlinsky's lifetime was in 1926 in Berlin-Charlottenburg.[4] The work runs for approximately 90 minutes and is usually paired with another work when performed.

In 1981, the Hamburg State Opera presented the first double-bill of Zemlinsky's two one-act operas Der Zwerg and Eine florentinische Tragödie.[4] Der Zwerg, however, was presented in an abridged version with a substantially altered libretto under the title The Birthday of the Infanta. The first modern performances of the opera as Zemlinsky intended it were given in Cologne in February 1996 under the direction of James Conlon.[5]


Role[3] Voice type Premiere Cast[6]
28 May 1922
(Conductor: Otto Klemperer)
Donna Clara, the Infanta soprano Erna Schröder
Ghita, her attendant soprano Käthe Herwig
Don Estoban, the chamberlain bass Hubert Mertens
The Dwarf tenor Karl Schröder
First Maid soprano Hedwig Werle
Second Maid soprano Hedwig Hertel
Third Maid alto Agnes Achnitz
Friends of the Infanta sopranos and altos Johanna Klemperer, Else Karsten, Adelheid Wollgarten


At the birthday celebrations of the Infanta (or Spanish princess) Donna Clara, a dwarf is sent as a present from a Sultan. Unaware of his physical deformity, the dwarf becomes infatuated with the Infanta, singing her a song of love and imagining himself as a brave knight. She toys with him and gives him a present of a white rose. Left on his own, he accidentally uncovers a mirror and sees his own reflection for the first time. In great agitation, he tries to obtain a kiss from the Infanta, but she spurns this, telling him he is a monster. His heart broken, he dies clutching the white rose as the Infanta rejoins the party.


  1. ^ Allenby, David, "More Than a Footnote" (Winter 2000). The Musical Times, 141 (1873): pp. 59-61.
  2. ^ Clayton, Alfred, "Zemlinsky's One-Act Operas" (August 1983). The Musical Times, 124 (1686): pp. 474-477.
  3. ^ a b "Alexander Zemlinsky - Der Zwerg op.17". Universal Edition. Retrieved 14 August 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Clayton, Alfred, "Reports: Hamburg" (December 1981). The Musical Times, 122 (1666): pp. 841-842.
  5. ^ Antony Beaumont: introduction to published score (Universal Edition, 2005)
  6. ^ "Musical events 28 May 1922". Italy: AmadeusOnline. Retrieved 14 August 2010.