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George the Dreamer

Alexander Zemlinsky 1871–1942

Opera in 2 acts and an epilogue
Libretto by Leo Feld
First performed October 11 1980, Nürnberg Opera

Sung in German with German & English surtitles

Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 minutes before performances begin
There's a chamber music concert on March 24 inspired by this work

Germany. Görge, an orphaned pastor’s son, spends his time reading. Books mean so much to him that he seems to live in stories, in a dream world. Because he used to entertain the old miller with stories Görge inherited the mill, which is being run by his guardian, who has now arranged that Görge should marry his daughter Grete to secure ownership of the mill. Although she bends to her father’s will, Grete can’t really get through to the dreamer.
On the morning of the wedding Grete’s former lover Hans returns from war and proposes to her. He hears of her father’s wedding plans with incredulity. When Görge talks about a Princess, who appeared to him in a dream, Hans pokes fun at his rival.
Alone by a stream, the Princess appears to Görge again and emboldens him with a vision of an ideal world. Bells striking twelve, the time of the wedding, bring Görge back to earth. He runs away from his bride and the villagers to make his dreams come true.
Act 2 3 years later. Görge’s plan backfired: he now lives in another village as an unkempt drinker. He only finds consolation in Gertraud, a dead count’s daughter who’s ostracised because of her origins, being suspected of arson and accused of witchcraft.
Disgruntled farmers, planning to rise up against the powerful people »up there«, want eloquent Görge to be their spokesperson. He agrees, to make his dreams come true in this way, but they insist he break up with Gertraud, who’s now being downright persecuted in the village. Görge sees the villagers blind aggression just in time, and the pointlessness of his own fairy tale world. When he refuses to leave Gertraud they both feel the full force of the fired-up mob.
Epilogue A year later. Görge went home with Gertraud, where he came into his inheritance, took over the mill and founded a school. Led by Grete and Hans, who are now married, the whole village thank them for their good deeds. Görge has found his Princess in Gertraud. They dream. They play.

Fairy tale worlds, that come to life: paradise or nightmare?

Vienna experienced major cultural upheaval and change at the turn of the 20th century and Sigmund Freud’s research into dreams and the subconscious provided inspiration for literature, theatre and music. Görge, the hero in Zemlinsky’s opera, deals with his fears and misfortunes in his dreams too. He lives in a world of books and falls in love with a princess in  dream ...

The central themes in this opera, rejection and hate of strangers, run like a red thread through Alexander Zemlinsky’s life too: in Vienna he experienced early anti-Semitic hostility, which was directed against artists too. One of the most prominent victims was court opera director Gustav Mahler, who commissioned this opera. His unrequited love for Alma Schindler and his woes poured out in this, his third opera. After Mahler was fired in 1907 the world premiere of the work was unceremoniously scrapped. It wasn’t seen or heard until 1980, as the crowing point of a Zemlinsky renaissance in Nürnberg. While his highly dramatic music brings Wagner, Mahler and Humperdinck to mind, it is original and inspired. Zemlinsky’s score glitters with brilliant ideas and sophisticated harmonies, which lend expressive touches to a story about being an outcast, distorted fairy tale worlds and alternative ways of life.