König Hirsch

König Hirsch (in English, The Stag King) is an opera in three acts by Hans Werner Henze to a German libretto by Heinz von Cramer [de] after Il re cervo, a theatrical fable (1762) by Carlo Gozzi. He revised it as Il re cervo, premiered in 1963 at the Staatstheater Kassel.

König Hirsch
Il re cervo
Opera by Hans Werner Henze
Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F008277-0008, Köln, Schloss Brühl, Meisterkurse Musik.jpg
The composer in 1960
LibrettistHeinz von Cramer [de]
Based onIl re cervo by Carlo Gozzi
23 September 1956 (1956-09-23)

Performance historyEdit

König Hirsch was first performed in a drastically shortened version by the Städtische Oper Berlin on 23 September 1956 in the Theater des Westens with staging by Jean Pierre Ponnelle and conducted by Hermann Scherchen, as a highlight of the Berliner Festwochen 1956.[1]

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, original form of König Hirsch was given for the first time on 5 May 1985 at the Staatsoper Stuttgart.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 23 September 1956
(Conductor: Hermann Scherchen)
The king (Leandro) tenor Sándor Kónya
The governor (Tartaglia) bass-baritone Leopold Clam
The maiden (Costanza) soprano Helga Pilarczyk
The preceptor bass Tomislav Neralic
Checco tenor Helmut Krebs
Coltellino tenor Martin Vantin
Scollatella I soprano Nora Jungwirth
Scollatella II soprano
Scollatella III mezzo-soprano
Scollatella IV contralto
Woman in black contralto
Statue I soprano
Statue II soprano
The stag mime
Voices in the forest, courtiers, animals, huntsmen, soldiers, city dwellers (chorus)


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.



To date the opera has not been recorded in its entirety. An excerpt (act 3, scene 5) from a performance recorded by the Südwestrundfunk Stuttgart in 1985 (Julia Conwell, soprano; John Bröcheler, bass-baritone; Helmut Holzapfel, tenor-buffo; Würtembergisches Staatsorchester Stuttgart; Dennis Russell Davies, cond.) is included as part of:

  • Neue Harmonien: Oper 1948–1962. CD recording, one disc. RCA Red Seal BMG Ariola Classics 74321 73539 2. Musik in Deutschland, 1950–2000: Musiktheater: Oper, Operette, Musical. [Germany]: BMG Ariola Classics, RCA Red Seal, Deutscher Musikrat, 2002.


  1. ^ Die Zeit 27. September 1956 Skandal um Henzes „König Hirsch“ "Liegt denn in alle dem ein Sinn?“ sang getreu nach dem Libretto Heinz v. Cramers in schmelzenden Tönen der Tenor Helmut Krebs. „Nee“, hallte es vom dritten Rang wie ein Peitschenknall in die andächtige, vielleicht auch etwas schläfrige Festwochenpremiere. Das Parkett antwortete mit Beifall. "
  • Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "König Hirsch, 23 September 1956". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).
  • Warrack, John and West, Ewan (1992), The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5