Der Zwerg

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Der Zwerg
Opera by Alexander von Zemlinsky
The composer in 1908
TranslationThe Dwarf
LibrettistGeorg Klaren
Based on"The Birthday of the Infanta"
by Oscar Wilde
22 May 1922 (1922-05-22)

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. Further productions followed in Vienna, Karlsruhe and Prague.[4] Its last performance in Zemlinsky's lifetime was in September 1926 at the Städtische Oper in Berlin-Charlottenburg.[5] 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.[5] 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 were given in Cologne in February 1996 under the direction of James Conlon.[6]

Numi Opera Theatre's inaugural season presented Der Zwerg with excerpts from Oscar Wilde's "Birthday of the Infanta" in Los Angeles in 2019.[7]


Role[3] Voice type Premiere Cast[8]
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


Offstage music: 3 trumpets; clarinet in C, bassoon, 2 horns, tambourine, mandoline, strings


A sultan has sent a dwarf as a present to the Infanta (Spanish princess) Donna Clara on her birthday. The dwarf is unaware of his physical deformity and becomes infatuated with the Infanta. He sings her a love song and imagines himself her brave knight. She toys with him and gives him a white rose as a present. Left alone, 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 him and calls him a monster. His heart broken, he dies clutching the white rose as the Infanta rejoins the party.


Soile Isokoski, David Kuebler, Iride Martinez, Andrew Collis, Juanita Lascarro, Machiko Obata, Anne Schwanewilms, Frankfurter Kantorei, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, James Conlon. EMI Classics (live recording), 1996.


  • Antony Beaumont: Zemlinsky. Cornell University Press 2000.
  • Ulrich Wilker: „Das Schönste ist scheußlich“: Alexander Zemlinskys Operneinakter Der Zwerg. (= Schriften des Wissenschaftszentrums Arnold Schönberg. Band 9). Böhlau, Wien/Köln/Weimar 2013.


  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. ^ Antony Beaumont: Zemlinsky (Faber and Faber, 2000), p.312.
  5. ^ a b Clayton, Alfred, "Reports: Hamburg" (December 1981). The Musical Times, 122 (1666): pp. 841–842.
  6. ^ Antony Beaumont: introduction to published score (Universal Edition, 2005)
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Musical events 28 May 1922". Italy: AmadeusOnline. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2010.