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Work of the week – Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Der Ring des Polykrates

On February 9 Korngold’s opera Der Ring des Polykrates will be performed in the USA for the first time. The opera will take place in the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, Texas and will be conducted by Emmanuel Villaume.

Written in 1914, Korngold was just seventeen years old when he finished Der Ring des Polykrates. The short comedy opera takes its text from a play by Heinrich Teweles. This one-act work by the then seventeen-year-old composer was premiered to an astonished audience at the Munich Court Theater in 1916 as part of a double bill also including Korngold’s next opera, Violanta. The libretto was written by Leo Feld and Julius Korngold, the father of the composer and an esteemed music critic in Vienna.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Der Ring des Polykrates: The parody of an antique text

Teweles’ comedy, on which the opera is based, is a parody on the ancient Greek story of King Polykrates. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the King’s excessive luck was thought to eventually result in a disastrous end and was therefore advised to throw away whatever he valued most in order to escape a reversal of fortune. The librettist Leo Feld adapted this story to take place in the 18th century. In Korngold’s comedy this excessive luck builds conflict between two spouses: the musician Wilhelm Arndt and his wife. Peter Vogel, a friend of the Saxon court conductor Wilhelm, advises him, just as King Polykrates, to make a sacrifice for retaining his luck. Wilhelm starts an argument with his wife about her former life, but the couple’s love is strong enough to overcome all difficulties. In the end, all agree that the sacrifice that has to be offered is Vogel who tried to ruin their happiness. In the 20th century the humorous one-act-opera was a popular German comic opera and was performed together with Violanta several times.

After the performances of Der Ring des Polykrates in Dallas, his great opera Das Wunder der Heliane can be seen at the Deutsche Oper Berlin as of 18 March.