Early twentieth-century Viennese modernity, obsessed with identity in crisis, was especially preoccupied with the play between external appearances and internal dimensions of the self. This is the context for Alexander Zemlinsky's opera Der Zwerg, which stages the tragic tale of an ugly, misshapen individual who does not recognize his own mirror image. The fatal end to his encounter with his reflection speaks to the devastating consequences of the limits of self-knowledge. While multiple conceptions of recognition—ranging from self-identity to the need for acknowledgement by others—have become increasingly prominent in recent literary, philosophical, and political discourses, theories of recognition have rarely played a role in the interpretation of operatic works. Here, the engagement with Zemlinsky's opera, and the Oscar Wilde text on which it is based, is framed and informed by the multivalent concept of recognition, which illuminates both the thematic and the structural workings of the music and libretto, while reflecting productively on the wider personal and political dimensions of their cultural contexts.


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pp. 198-223
Launched on MUSE
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