OP0156. DER GEBURTSTAG DER INFANTIN (The Dwarf) (Zemlinsky), recorded 1983, w.Gerd Albrecht Cond. Berlin Radio S.O.; Inga Nielsen, Béatrice Haldas, Kennth Riegel, Dieter Weller, Cheryl Studer, etc. (Austria) Schwann Musica Mundi 11626, w.full Libretto. Long out-of-print, final excellent, very sl.used copy!
“Franz Schreker (1878–1934) and Ernst Toch (1887–1964), two of the most important and successful Austrian composers of their generations, ranked among the most prominent victims of National Socialist cultural policy after Hitler’s seizure power in 1933. Schreker’s GEBURTSTAG DER INFANTIN, written in 1908 on commission from the Klimtsche Kunstschau, is not only a key piece within the context of the secession movement in its new understanding of the Gesamtkunstwerk - it also marks the birth of expressive dance (Ausdruckstanz), as developed by the Wiesenthal sisters in their shedding of the rigid corset of classical ballet in Vienna. The success of GEBURTSTAG DER INFANTIN, which was hailed as an epochal event, confirmed not only Schreker’s position in the Viennese music scene, it also led to a libretto commission from Alexander von Zemlinsky, who wanted Wilde’s fin de siècle version of the beauty and the beast transferred into a modern ‘tragedy of the ugly man’. Schreker ended up composing it himself with DIE GEZEICHNETEN, which cemented his fame once and for all after the legendary debut of DER FERNE KLANG in Frankfurt am Main in 1912. The score of the original performance version of GEBURTSTAG DER INFANTIN, which was rediscovered only in the 1980s, underwent a reworking by Schreker for a production at the Berlin Staatsoper - in which several parts (such as the scene with the dwarf before the mirror) had been omitted. Ernst Toch’s Tanzsuite was premiered in Mannheim in 1923 - the same year as the revised version of Schreker’s Pantomime in Berlin. Paul Breisach, a student of Schreker’s, conducted the production by the choreographer Frieda Back. Her teacher Mary Wigman is the link in a fascinating trail which led back to Schreker and the Wiesenthals, since the impression that the GEBURTSTAG DER INFANTIN made on Wigman in 1908 in Vienna inspired her to become a dancer.”
“DER ZWERG (The Dwarf) (or DER GEBURTSTAG DER INFANTIN), 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. 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. He completed the short score in December 1919 and the orchestration in January 1921.
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. 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. 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.
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. He is heart broken, he dies clutching the white rose as the Infanta rejoins the party.”
"Gerd Albrecht was a prolific recording artist who spent almost his entire career in Germany with the exception of posts at the Zurich Tonhalle and Danish Radio and four years (1993-96) when he was controversially elected chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and subsequently deposed.
In the introduction to the German edition of my book THE MAESTRO MYTH, I reported that Albrecht had won the Czech vote by promising a record contract that he could not deliver. Albrecht applied to have the book banned, but the judicial process never got off the ground after Czech musicians supplied me with the incriminating faxes. In the immediate post-communist confusion, a part of the orchestra had become bedazzled by the prospect of western wealth.
Albrecht’s Wikipedia entry describes his period in Prague as ‘a musical success’. Not many who heard the orchestra in that time would share that conclusion. It was an unhappy period, ending in a bust-up with the President, Vaclav Havel. Albrecht left behind a deeply divided orchestra. He was invited back for further engagements at the 2004 Salzburg Festival and for a 2006 South America tour. The orchestra has lately reverted to Jirí Belohlávek, the music director whom Albrecht displaced. From 1997 to 2007, Gerd Albrecht was principal conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo. Since September 2012 he has been musical director of the Besançon International Music Festival.
His podium work can be judged on more than 50 recordings, some of them reviving music by Schreker, Korngold and other composers who were banned under the Nazi regime. Albrecht’s father had been an official in that regime.”
- Norman Lebrecht, 3 Feb., 2014