Personalities | Alexander Zemlinsky | Modern Era | Opera
Dedicated to opera as a conductor and composer, Zemlinsky attracted critical acclaim, yet by the time of his death he was all but forgotten. He had his second opera, Es War Einmal (‘Once Upon a Time’, 1899), conducted and revised by Gustav Mahler for its first performance at the Vienna Court Opera in 1900. Zemlinsky assisted Mahler at the VCO and began planning the premiere of his next opera, Der Traumgörge (Görge the Dreamer’, 1906), but when Mahler resigned in 1907, Zemlinsky followed suit. The opera was not performed until nearly 40 years after his death.
Zemlinsky’s next appointment, to the Neues Deutsches Theater in Prague, marked the beginning of a fertile 16-year stretch. It became one of Europe’s most significant opera centres, and his own projects flourished. As well as his best-known work, the Lyric Symphony (1923), Zemlinsky wrote two beautiful one-act operas: Ein florentinische Tragödie (‘A Florentine Tragedy’, 1917) and Der Zwerg (‘The Dwarf’, 1922), with a libretto by Georg C. Klaren after Oscar Wilde’s The Birthday of the Infanta. After Zemlinsky’s last complete opera Der Kreidekreis (‘The Chalk Circle’, 1932) was suppressed by the Nazis, he moved to America and died in relative obscurity.
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