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Zemlinsky: Der Zwerg (The Dwarf)

Soile Isokoski , David Kuebler , Iride Martinez , Andrew Collis , Juanita Lacarro , Machiko Obata , Anne Schwanewilms , Zemlinsky , James Conlon , Gurzenich-Orchester Köln Audio CD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Gurzenich-Orchester Köln
  • Conductor: James Conlon
  • Composer: Zemlinsky
  • Audio CD (March 26, 2013)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Warner Classics
  • ASIN: B00AE10B2C
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,256 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Editorial Reviews

With an unrivaled catalogue of over 450 complete opera recordings produced over the last 60 years - and an illustrious succession of artists that today includes such names as Montserrat Caballe, Angela Gheorghiu, Plácido Domingo, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Antonio Pappano and Carlo Maria Giulini - EMI Classics, with its sister label Virgin Classics, can rightly claim to be the Home of Opera.

Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg is a tragic fairy - tale for music in one act by Georg C. Klaren, based freely on Oscar Wilde's The Birthday of the Infanta. James Conlon leads the Gurzenich-Orchester Köln in this live recording featuring Soile Isokoski, Iride Martinex, Andrew Collis and David Kuebler as Der Zwerg.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Expressionist melancholy May 7, 2013
While listening to "Der Zwerg", I find that the opera which comes most often to mind for purposes of comparative listening is Puccini's "Turandot", although in fact Zemlinksy finished the short score in 1919 and orchestrated this version in 1921, while Puccini's opera was still unfinished at the time of his in 1924. It has a shimmering, expressionist quality marked by frequent, abrupt changes of mood and a certain lack of melodiousness in comparison with "Turandot" even though its leitmotifs are readily identifiable. It is equally tempting to identify other influences such as Richard Strauss's "Die ägyptische Helena", especially when the choral passages seem to ape Strauss's chirpy elves, but in fact "Helena" was not written until 1928, so it seems that we must accord Zemlinsky greater originality than is first apparent. Several listenings in, I am increasingly reconciled to its choppy nature and more inclined to appreciate its lyrical interludes - and I am certainly pleased by its inventive orchestration which includes prominent featuring of a mandolin, harps and raucous trumpets to balance the swooning strings.

Its subject matter, loosely adapted from Oscar Wilde's short story "The Birthday of the Infanta", is famously redolent of the composer's lingering resentment of his rejection by his pupil Alma Schindler in favour of Gustav Mahler and the opera narrates a sad, poignant tale.

The singing is first class, especially Isokoski's lambent, flickering soprano but reactions to David Kuebler's hard-voiced tenor as the dwarf will depend upon how much the listener is prepared to sacrifice vocal beauty to dramatic verisimilitude; I find prolonged exposure to his sound wearing despite its aptness.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sardonic and sumptuous May 8, 2013
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Alma Schindler was not a nice woman. After initially deriding Zemlinsky for his looks, she embarked on a passionate affair with the composer, only to unceremoniously dump him at the meeting and marriage of Gustav Mahler. Mahler was not spared either, suffering the humiliation of her flagrant affair with the architect Walter Gropius, even while married. Zemlinsky's operas are rife with recrimination, despair, and revenge. What better work than Oscar Wilde's "The Birthday of the Infanta" to give voice to his feelings of betrayal. A deformed dwarf (the "Der Zwerg" of this work), who believes himself a handsome nobleman, is taunted by the childish Infanta into believing that she shares his love. When faced with the mirror, his shocking confrontation to his ugly appearance and cruel treatment kills him. Wilde's story has also received other musical treatment, aptly in an orchestral suite by Franz Schreker (who better than the composer of Die Gezeichneten). Zemlinsky's betrayal was not slaked by this operatic expression only: in "A Florentine Tragedy," a merchant cuckolded by his wife only wins her back after killing her lover in her presence; in "Der Konig Kandaules, " a fisherman who spies on the king's wife (with a ring that makes him invisible, think Tolkien), ultimately seduces her and seizes the power to oust the abusive king.

But for the fact that the story is sardonic and black hearted, Zemlinsky has given the listener a sumptuous, seductive score. James Conlon does a fine job urging the sensuality and decadence from the orchestra, although the recorded sound does seem to have the restrictions of an orchestra pit at times (it is a live recording, but obviously a concert presentation, since there is no stage noise).
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