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Three Operas

Ernst Křenek 1900-1991

The DictatorHeavyweight or the Honour of the NationThe Secret Kingdom

Three 1 act works: a tragic opera I burlesque operetta I fairy tale opera

Librettos by the composer
World premiere May 6th 1928, Staatstheater, Wiesbaden

first performances in Frankfurt
Sung in German with German surtitles
c. 2hrs, including one interval
an introductory talk, in German, begins in the upstairs foyer 30 minutes before curtain up  

Three protagonists: an egoistic dictator, who casts his spell over women, a boxer, who becomes over dependant on his training machine, and a king fleeing reality, who is caught in the middle of a curious conflict between his court and the outside world. Ernst Křenek, who had just made his international breakthrough with his successful opera Jonny spiel auf, titled the three one act works: tragic opera, burlesque operetta and fairy tale opera. Like his contemporaries Busoni, Weill and Martinů he sought alienation from art and audience. This led to him doing the splits between the tried and tested and the reflection of developments in popular culture: in the Dictator he conjures up group of characters à la Shakespeare, his Heavyweight or the Honour of a Nation is a farce peppered with popular dance music and The Secret Royal Kingdom develops into an almost Nestroy-like criticism of society.

They were performed for the first time in 1928, directed by the Intendant in Wiesbaden, Paul Bekker, at the Hessische Staatstheater in front of an extremely enthusiastic audience – including »lots of people from Frankfurt«, wrote a reviewer. For the first time Křenek, who wrote his own libretto for these works and nearly all of his other 20+ operas, anchored his creation in its own reality.

The Dictator The dictator signs a new declaration of war while on holiday. His wife Charlotte tries, in vain, to make him change his mind. The ruler has his eye on the 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 2: 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 has grown with every shot. Maria's hate turns into fascination and physical longing. Charlotte, hearing them becoming 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. Showing that night: a comedy about the champion boxer Adam Ochsenschwanz, his wife Evelyne and her dancing teacher/lover Gaston. When the actors spot 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 the dictator 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. INTERVAL The Secret Kingdom The 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. Then she falls in love with a captured rebel leader, who also has his eye on the crown. In order to gain the upper hand she needs to get the circlet away from the jester. 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 loses the crown to his mistress. The power in her hands, she frees the imprisoned rebels. 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 2: 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 the 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: not a crown, an animal's eye! His only wish now is to serve nature, in all her splendour.