Opera Scotland

Florentinische Tragödie 1983Hamburg State Opera

Read more about the opera Florentine Tragedy

The operatic highlight of the 1983 Edinburgh Festival was undoubtedly the first visit by Opera Theatre of St Louis, with a new American work, The Postman Always Rings Twice (Paulus) and a rare British one, Fennimore and Gerda (Delius). There was also the fourth by the Hamburg company, their first since 1968. The Magic Flute production, at the vast Playhouse, was very different from its predecessors, and very entertaining. However a far more important event occurred at the more intimate King's Theatre, with the British premiere of two operas by Zemlinsky, both derived from Oscar Wilde, and presented as a double-bill. While the first piece, a three-hander called A Florentine Tragedy, worked well, it was overshadowed by the second piece. Zemlinsky's title, Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) was replaced by a restoration of Wilde's original, Der Geburtstag der Infantin (The Birthday of the Infanta). It proved to be a superb piece, well worthy of revival. Enjoying a lower profile, but also fitting the Festival's Viennese theme, was Scottish Opera's staging of Britten's Death in Venice, derived from the novella by Thomas Mann.

The Usher Hall also contained two semi-operatic concerts, with Claudio Abbado on unfamiliar Wagnerian territory (Act 2 of Lohengrin), and Alexander Gibson and the local team tackling Schoenberg's huge Gurrelieder for the first time. Another Schoenberg rarity, the monodrama Erwartung, was also conducted by Abbado.

The 1983 Festival was the highlight of John Drummond's years in charge, and widely reckoned to be one of the most satisfying Festivals ever. The theme was the Vienna Secession at the beginning of the 20th century, and the entire event had a sense of unity and cohesion that was extremely welcome. Zemlinsky was an important composer and teacher, but was hardly known in Britain in 1983. None of his operas had been performed here. At the time, the Oscar Wilde derived double bill of A Florentine Tragedy and The Dwarf, (which was marketed under the title of the original Wilde story, The Birthday of the Infanta), was an unexpected surprise in terms of its overall quality. The double bill was also given a run at Covent Garden a few seasons later in the same staging, Zemlinsky's works do not appear to have gained greatly in exposure since then, at least in Britain, though most of the operas have now appeared at least as recordings.

While musically strong, the staging of this first part was inevitably less interesting than the second work, simply because it was more static, with only three people on stage in a darkened box set. But the sounds from the orchestra are superb, and it seems surprising that the opera is not done in concert form as frequently as contemporary pieces such as Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung.

Performance Cast

Guido Bardi a Florentine prince

Kenneth Riegel

Simone a wealthy merchant

Guillermo Sarabia

Bianca Simone's wife

Elisabeth Steiner

Performance DatesFlorentinische Tragödie 1983

Map List

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

22 Aug, 19.30 24 Aug, 19.30

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