Opera Scotland

Zwerg Der Zwerg; The Dwarf; The Birthday of the Infanta

Tours by decade

1980s - 1 tour

1983 - Hamburg State Opera
Fully Staged with Orchestra

Tours by location


Alexander von Zemlinsky (born Vienna, 14 October 1871; died Larchmont, NY, 15 March 1942)


Georg C Klaren


Story The Birthday of the Infanta (1888) by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)



First Performance: Cologne (Theater am Habsburger Ring), 28 May 1922.

First Performance in UK: Edinburgh (King's Theatre), 22 August 1983.

First Performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.



It seems to be widely held that this astonishing work contains an element of Zemlinsky's own feelings of self-pity, following his rejection twenty years earlier by a student of his, Alma Schindler. Her own view, as quoted in the 1983 Edinburgh programme: "He was a horrid little gnome, chinless, toothless, always stank of coffee houses, unwashed, and yet through his mental perception and power he was utterly fascinating. At first." In 1901 she married Gustav Mahler, and Zemlinsky seems to have found it difficult to recover from the upset.

The Hamburg revival in 1981, the first production since the original one, used an edition of the score adapted and abridged by the director Adolf Dresen, which was marketed using the title of Wilde's story, Der Geburtstag der Infantin (The Birthday of the Infanta). Now that the work has been returned to the general repertoire, where it undoubtedly belongs, subsequent stagings have returned to the original, complete text.



Donna Clara, Infanta of Spain (soprano)

Ghita, her personal maid (soprano)

Don Estoban, the Majordomo (bass)

The Dwarf (tenor)

Three Ladies-in-waiting (soprano, mezzo, contralto)


Plot Summary

It is the day of the Infanta's twelfth birthday, and a party is to be held in a marquee in the palace grounds. Don Estoban supervises final preparations. She receives a number of extravagant presents, which are admired by her ladies. The most notable of these is a hideous dwarf which was caught in the forest. The Infanta arrives to be dressed up, and makes a distribution of cake to palace staff and the poor. Don Estoban announces the most magnificent of the presents as a handsome knight who will sing and dance. To the horror of the courtiers, he then reveals the dwarf, who is allowed out of his cage and duly sings and dances. The princess is charmed and offers him a bride of his choice, and the dwarf chooses her. Don Estoban realises the joke has gone too far, and gets the courtiers to leave. The dwarf sings and dances with the princess, but she eventually gets bored and joins the courtiers. Ghita tries to persuade the dwarf that everything has been done in fun, but he continues to believe in his love. At last, he catches sight of himself in the one mirror which had not been removed. Thinking initially it is a demon he had once seen when he looked into a lake, he at last realises that it is his own reflection. The princess comes back in and asks him to sing again, and he begs her to ignore his appearance. When he is ignored he collapses and dies. The princess returns to her party, leaving her broken toy behind.

The Cast

Don Estoban
 the Major-domo
Donna Clara
 Infanta of Spain
First Maid
 Clara's personal maid
Second Maid
Third Maid

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