Alexander Zemlinsky: Der König Kandaules

Cover of Zemlinsky Koenig Kandaules Critical Edition

Edited by Antony Beaumont

Drama in three acts 
Libretto: Alexander Zemlinsky (in German)
World premiere: 06.10.1996, Hamburg

After his depressing experiences with Der Kreidekreis (The Chalk Circle), banned by the Nazis, Zemlinsky could not reckon on a new opera being performed by a theatre in the German-speaking world. Nevertheless, in Vienna with the help of his wife, he looked for a new subject. In 1935, when Louise brought his attention to André Gide's Le Roi Candaule (1899), after some initial hesitation he decided to bas an opera on the play and adapted the text as a libretto. He sketched the score between June 1935 and December 1936 but then made little progress on the orchestration: the oppressive political situation paralysed his creativity, and while working on the scoring, he was also making extensive changes to the sketch. When the family fled from Vienna in 1938, roughly a third of the orchestral score was finished.

In New York Zemlinsky had high hopes for Der König Kandaules and wanted to establish himself in the New World through the opera’s performance. Yet it was not to be. When he showed the libretto to his friend Artur Bodanzky, who was then conducting at the Met, he advised Zemlinsky against completing the opera because the nude scene planned for the second act would make it impossible to perform before prudish American audiences. Zemlinsky had to abandon Kandaules.

It was not until 1990 that a musician succeeded in reconstructing the entire short score: Antony Beaumont, to a commission from the Hamburg State Opera, then completed the orchestration of Zemlinsky's final opera between 1992 and 1995. Its overwhelmingly successful world premiere took place in Hamburg on 6 October 1996.

Text: Uwe Sommer