König Hirsch was first performed in a shortened version by the Städtische Oper Berlin on 23 September 1956 in the Theater des Westens. It was rewritten as Il re cervo, oder Die Irrfahrten der Wahrheit (The Stag King or The Odysseys of Truth) and performed at the Staatstheater Kassel on 10 March 1963. This version was also produced at the Santa Fe Opera on 4 August 1965. The complete work was given for the first time on 5 May 1985 at the Staatsoper Stuttgart.
The king, who has been cast into the forest as a child by the governor, returns to his kingdom. However he is tricked by the governor and forced to go back to the forest where he turns into a stag. Eventually he goes back once again, the governor is killed, and he is transformed again into human form.