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

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

Composition history


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


The opera's premiere took place on 28 May 1922 at the Stadttheater Glockengasse 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] In 2004 'Der Zwerg' was one of the 'Eight Little Greats' season given by Opera North throughout the north of England.

In 2013, the Opéra national de Lorraine in Nancy, who had previously presented Zemlinsky's Der König Kandaules and Eine florentinische Tragödie, continued its exploration of his work with Der Zwerg, presented under the French title Le nain[7] with Erik Fenton as the Dwarf, Helena Juntuen as the Infanta, Eleanore Marguerre as Ghita and Pley Bryjak as Don Estoban. The staging was by Philipp Himmelmann with sets by Raimund Bauer and costumes by Bettina Walter.

The success of the performances in Nancy led to another adaptation in France in 2018 at the Opera de Rennes.[8]

Numi Opera Theatre's inaugural season presented Der Zwerg with excerpts from Oscar Wilde's "Birthday of the Infanta" in Los Angeles in 2019.[9]

In November 2022, Cologne Opera commemorated the centenary of the work's premiere there with a new production directed by Paul-Georg Dittrich and conducted by Lawrence Renes.[10]


Roles, voice types, premiere cast
Role[3] Voice type Premiere cast, 28 May 1922[11]
(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.




  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. ^ Erik Fenton, intense Nain de Zemlinsky, conquiert Nancy, Bruno Serrou, June 24, 2013
  8. ^ Un très grand Nain à Rennes, Véronique Boudier, March 27, 2018
  9. ^ "Numi Opera Theatre Revives Jewish Composed Opera Censored by the Nzis in Their Debut Season".
  10. ^ Retrieved August 2022.
  11. ^ Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Der Zwerg, 28 May 1922". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).


  • Antony Beaumont: Zemlinsky. Cornell University Press 2000.

Further reading

  • Ulrich Wilker: "'Das Schönste ist scheußlich': Alexander Zemlinskys Operneinakter Der Zwerg", in Schriften des Wissenschaftszentrums Arnold Schönberg, volume 9. Böhlau, Wien/Köln/Weimar 2013.