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Three Short Operas

Ernst Křenek 1900-1991

Tragic Opera in one act / Burlesque Operetta in one act / Fairy Tale in one act
Texts by Ernst Křenek
World premieres: May 6 1928, Staatstheater, Wiesbaden
This production opened April 30 2017

Sung in German with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin

The Dictator signs a declaration of war while on holiday. His wife Charlotte tries, in vain, to make him change his mind. The ruler has his eye on beautiful Maria, whose husband, an officer, was blinded by an enemy poison gas attack. Maria intends to assassinate the tyrant with her husband's pistol. Sc. ii  A visit by a »lady from a convalescence home for officers« is announced. Charlotte implores her husband not to see her. He sends his wife out of the room. Charlotte remains in hearing range when Maria enters the room. Although she aims the gun at him three times and mortally wounds him, three times, he still stands, unharmed, before her; his desire for her growing with every shot. Maria's hate turns into fascination and physical longing. Charlotte, hearing them become more intimate, storms into the hotel room in a jealous rage and grabs Maria's weapon. She aims at him, but hits Maria.
Heavyweight or the Honour of the Nation The dictator goes to the theatre to see a comedy about the champion boxer Adam Ochsenschwanz, his wife Evelyne and her dancing teacher/lover Gaston. When the actors see the hated despot in the audience, they sense they have a chance of killing him. They begin improvising and – with help from the alluring »Anna Maria Himmelhuber« - succeed in getting him on stage. The military on duty are suspicious. Their commander waves them aside and allows himself to be strapped into a spectacular apparatus, which he then cannot get out of. An actor, dressed as a senior civil servant, awards the dictator the title of »The Honour of the Nation« and »Adam Ochsenschwanz« has a detonator in his hand ...
The Secret Kingdom Cries of revolutionaries can be heard outside. The depressed despot, who now calls himself »king«, confides in the jester his feelings of despair that he has failed as a ruler. The jester sets him a riddle to solve that could reveal his true kingdom: „What is round, gleams and is found on a head?“ The King's wife has designs on the crown, which the ruler hands to the jester. She then falls in love with a captured rebel leader, who also has his eye on the crown. She needs to get the circlet away from the jester in order to gain the upper hand. Her three daughters seduce him into drinking poisoned wine, which has no effect on him at all. But then, in the excitement of a card game, he ends up losing the crown to his mistress. The power in her hands, she frees the imprisoned rebel. Revolutionaries storm the building. The jester helps the royal family escape through a secret door; the King wearing the jester's coat so as not to be recognised. Sc. ii The rebel follows the Queen through the wood. When he reaches out for the crown, she turns into a tree. The King meets two drunk revolutionaries. He reveals that he is their ruler, hoping they will kill him. But they don't believe him and carry on their way. The King now intends to take his own life. He hears his wife's voice, which makes him become aware of the wealth and abundance of nature. And finds the answer to the jester's riddle – it's an animal's eye, not a crown! His only wish now is to serve nature, in all her splendour.

In 1928, with political foresight, Ernst Křenek placed »music history, not only his times, in front of a time-lapse camera in three one act operas« (Theodor W. Adorno). The composer, who's aim was to open opera up to a wider audience, invented music and texts about interesting, normal things: The tragic opera Der Diktator / The Dictator, with its Shakespeare like figure constellation, is followed by the burlesque operetta Schwergewicht oder Die Ehre der Nation / Heavyweight and the Honour of the Nation with popular dance numbers, racy punch lines, funny figures and the boxer Adam Ochsenschwanz. Křenek created a more romanticised sound for his fairy tale opera The Secret Realm giving the good, but unworldly, King a capricious coloratura singing queen, and her three ladies as well as a fool. This Frankfurt production, into which director David Hermann interwove a story about the rise and fall of a dictator, was voted »Rediscovery of the Year« at the 2018 International Opera Awards in London.