“A ring of invisibility found in a giant fish. A voyeuristic king. A fisherman’s burning house and unfaithful wife. Alexander Zemlinsky’s Der König Kandaules is an exceptionally strange opera. Based on André Gide’s 1899 play of the same title, it is a heady mix of sex, violence, and remarkably beautiful music. In the Volksoper’s remarkable revival, its allusiveness alternately fascinates and alienates, drawing the viewer in only to reward them with yet more mysteries.”
Note how most people writing about this opera conspicuously avoid trying to say what it’s about. I don’t like evasion and just admitted that I have no real idea. Maybe I like certainty too much, but the libretto of this opera had a higher ratio of the cryptic to the significant than I can find that satisfying. There are glimmerings of significance–and Neuenfels’s production does a good job in replicating and extending the text’s ambiguity–but the whole thing just slips from your grasp in a way that I ultimately found a little unfulfilling. It’s not that I need things to be spelled out, but it’s blatantly allegorical without a referant in sight. But the score is beautiful and the performance is quite good, and maybe you’ll be less desperate for a moral than I am. And who knows when you’ll get the chance to see it again. So go!
(I do admit I was longing for Kent Nagano and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester through the whole thing, after hearing their Zwerg in March.)
Regie fans may be interested to know that the design, in which an allegorical figure of Zemlinsky appears and Gyges and Kandaules appear as doubles, is by Christian Schmidt, who has previously used both of these devices in his design work with Claus Guth.