Critical Edition by Antony Beaumont
The Miller wants his daughter Grete to marry her cousin Görge in order to keep the mill, which is the young man’s birthright. But Görge, a withdrawn dreamer and bookworm, remains elusive for Grete. Just before the two are to be engaged, her former sweetheart Hans returns home from military service, proposes to Grete and derides his “rival”. Görge has a vision and, instead of going to the betrothal, heads into the world of fantasy. Declaring “fairy-tales must come alive”, he sets off in search of the princess of his dreams. Three years later, he is living penniless and disillusioned in another village. He has sympathy only for society’s outcasts, including Gertraud, who is suspected of witchcraft and arson. The peasants are planning an uprising and want the eloquent Görge to abandon her and become their spokesman and leader. Gertraud contemplates suicide in order not to stand in the way of Görge’s happiness, but he defends her against the villagers’ attacks. The couple flee to his home village, where he takes over the mill. Görge realizes that his dream has been fulfilled. In Gertraud he has found the princess who once appeared to him in his dreams.
Two acts – two worlds: the petit bourgeois village idyll with ripening grain and sunshine of Act I contrasts with the village of Act II, a wicked place where the inhabitants are motivated by envy, lust, hate and greed. At the end of the opera, in the so-called Epilogue, comes reconciliation and recognition by society. The piece appears to be an allegory of longing and exclusion as well as of integration of the “other” in the world. Zemlinsky first mentions his plan for an opera based on Heinrich Heine’s poem Der arme Peter
(1821) in the summer of 1903 in letters to his brother-in-law and close friend Arnold Schoenberg. Another source of inspiration was Volkmann-Leander’s tale Vom unsichtbaren Königreiche
(1871), and three years later the score of Zemlinsky’s third opera, Der Traumgörge
, was finished. In its infinite richness and colour, the work is a highly developed example of the German tradition, with clearly recognizable musical and dramatic references to Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner.
Gustav Mahler, court opera director in Vienna since 1897, had already demonstrated his admiration for Zemlinsky’s preceding operas. Having given the premiere of the second of them, Es war einmal...
(Once upon a time...), he now intended to present Zemlinsky’s Traumgörge
. The premiere was set for 1908. But in 1907, Mahler left Vienna, fed up with the countless squabbles and hostility to him personally, and his successor Felix Weingartner showed little interest in the Zemlinsky opera favoured by his predecessor. The premiere only took place decades later, as part of the burgeoning Zemlinsky renaissance, on 11 October 1980 in Nuremberg.
Text: Daniela Brendel