The performances of this work by the Austrian Alexander von Zemlinsky take place on 7, 9, and 11 March in the Symphony Hall

The composer took inspiration from a short story by Oscar Wilde (The Birthday of the Infanta) and from a personal heartbreak he experienced


Auditorio de Tenerife presents Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) by Alexander von Zemlinsky. The details of this show were announced by the island director of Culture of the Council of Tenerife, Alejandro Krawietz, the stage director and set designer, Daniel Jeanneteau, and the musical director, Alessandro Palumbo. This new proposal from the Opera of Tenerife, a French co-production, can be enjoyed on 7, 9, and 11 March at 7:30 p.m.

Alejandro Krawietz explained that “with Der Zwerg, we are maintaining the balance this season between contemporary and repertoire production. On this occasion, we have the work of a composer, Alexander von Zemlinsky, not well-known and who is being brought back into the lyrical and symphonic fields. He is one of the figures who make it easiest to understand the boundary between both styles” reflected the island director, who recalled that “significant discounts for the audience under 30 years of age, students, unemployed, large families and groups of more than five people are available thanks to the desire of the Island Council of Tenerife to attract a new audience”.

Daniel Jeanneteau stated that this is “a very peculiar work which sits between the transition of the 19th century and the modernity of the 20th, which is very strongly reflected in its structure and form”. “Over the course of the work, it speeds up dramatically and there is a symbiosis between the writing, the music and theatricality” described the director, for whom tackling this challenge “is a very interesting problem”. As an anecdote, he stated that the librettist of the opera, Georg C. Klaren, was a scriptwriter for  Alfred Hitchcock, “which explains the quality of the libretto”. Lastly, he highlighted the level of the singers who do “great performative work” and assured that it is an “accessible work for the general public”.

Alessandro Palumbo, who will conduct the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, emphasised that “it has been ten years since my first collaboration with Opera de Tenerife when I attended the press conferences as a musical assistant and sat at the back”. Now, as a conductor, he is grateful “to Tenerife, my second home, and to the Opera de Tenerife, my second family”. The maestro agreed that “Zemlinsky is not very well known, even among musicians”, but “this production is very beautiful and the music is fascinating, difficult in terms of the music but very communicative: Zemlinsky has a great sense of theatricality”.

Premièred in 1922, this opera is considered the most emblematic by the Austrian composer. The proposal is being staged in Tenerife and produced among Opéra de Lille, Opéra de Rennes, Fondation Royaumont and Théâtre de Caen, has Jeanneteau as a stage designer and stage director. His team is completed by Marie-Christine Soma for lighting and Olga Karpinsky for costumes. For the Tenerife shows, the number of choir singers has has increased, and their costumes have been made by the tailors of the Opera de Tenerife with the collaboration of the costume designer of the production.

The cast includes German soprano Mojca Erdmann as the Infanta Donna Clara, Bilbao tenor Mikeldi Atxalandabaso as the dwarf, Asturian soprano Beatriz Díaz as the princess's maid Ghita and German bass-baritone Philipp Jekal as the chamberlain Don Estoban. In addition, Russian soprano Nina Solodovnikova and Carmen Mateo from Alicante, and Russian mezzo-soprano Maria Ostroukhova will sing the roles of the maids. The Infanta's friends will be played by the Turkish-born soprano Ezgi Alhuda and the Australian mezzo-soprano Sophie Burns. They are joined by some thirty female voices of the choir Coro Titular Ópera de Tenerife-Intermezzo.

The opera takes place in one act and narrates the celebration of the eighteenth birthday of the Infanta of Spain, Donna Clara. The gifts she receives notably include one from the Turkish Sultan: a deformed and ugly dwarf who sings and dances, which the Infanta greatly enjoys. So much so that she wants him to perform just for her.

The dwarf wrongly thinks that she has fallen in love with him. He tries to kiss her and she rejects him, calling him a monster. The Infanta orders Ghita, her favourite maid, to take him in front of a mirror so he can realise the reality of his situation. Due to his humble origins, raised with his family of coalmen in a cabin in the forest, the dwarf is unaware of his appearance. Upon seeing his reflection, he understands that the Infanta cannot love someone so ugly and unpleasant and that he is only a source of fun for her.

The discovery of this harsh reality causes the dwarf to have a heart attack and dies.  When the Infanta sees him collapsed on the floor, she orders him to get up and dance for her. Ghita realises what has happened and informs the Infanta that it is not possible because the dwarf has suffered a broken heart. The latter orders that, from that point on, nobody with a heart should enter the palace and join the party.

Alexander von Zemlinsky was madly in love with his composition student, the famous artist Alma Schindler, the future wife of Gustav Mahler. Initially, she responded to the feelings of love from Zemlinsky, but, ultimately the relationship broke down, seemingly, due to family pressure. Der Zwerg has been interpreted as a metaphor for Zemlinsky’s relationship with Schindler, who referred to the ugliness of the composer on several occasions.

The Birthday of the Infanta is one of the four stories compiled in the book of short stories A House of Pomegranates by Oscar Wilde. For this short story, the writer took inspiration from the dwarves of the Spanish court depicted by Velázquez.

The Opera de Tenerife is an initiative organised by the Island Council through the Auditorio de Tenerife with the collaboration of the ICDC (Regional Institute of Cultural Development) and the INAEM (National Institute of Performing Arts and Music).

The tickets are available on the website, at the auditorium's box office or by dialling the phone number 902 317 327 from Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 05:00 p.m., Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 02:00 p.m.