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Work of the week – Paul Hindemith: Cardillac

Paul Hindemith’s first full-length opera Cardillac was one of the most popular stage works of the 1920s. On 21 April, the Landestheater Salzburg will premiere a new production by Amélie Niemeyer, with the Mozarteum Orchestra performing under the direction of Robin Davis and stage design by Stefanie Seitz.

Hindemith had been searching for a suitable opera text for a long time before he came across his ideal source in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s novella Mademoiselle de Scudéri, and engaged Ferdinand Lion as librettist to adapt the text. The music of Cardillac often creates a sense of callous detachment, yet Hindemith subtly connects his music with the libretto. He interprets the word-sound ratio in a completely new, factual and objective way, which is why Cardillac is often considered a major work of the New Objectivity movement. Another distinctive feature of the composition is Hindemith’s use of baroque forms, such as fugues and passacaglias.

Paul Hindemith – Cardillac: A murderer in Paris

Hindemith was immediately drawn to the character of Cardillac, a brilliant goldsmith in seventeenth-century Paris who is so proud of his creations that he begins murdering his customers to reclaim his work. In psychology, an artist’s pathological inability to part with his works is now recognised as a mental disorder, named ‘Cardillac syndrome’ after Hoffman’s novella. The syndrome recognises artists perceive the loss of their work, which they have personally and emotionally invested in, as a loss of part of their identity. At the end of the opera, Cardillac confesses to the murders but without remorse, and is lynched for his crimes. Even as he dies he reaches for a necklace, which he kisses.

“This done, I felt a peace, a contentment in my soul like never before. The ghost was gone and Satan’s voice was silent. Now that I know my dark desires, I have to give in, or perish!”
– Cardillac’s confession

Following the opening night at the Landestheater Salzburg, Cardillac will receive five further performances from 29 April to 15 May, and Opera di Firenze will also stage the opera under the direction of Fabio Luisi from 5 to 15 May. From 4 to 30 May, a production of Hindemith’s comic opera Neues vom Tage will be performed at the Mecklenburgische Staatstheater in Schwerin under the direction of Gabriel Venzago.


photo: Theater Pforzheim / Sabine Haymann