L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Magic Spells) / Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) - Synopsis

L'Enfant et les sortilèges: Laura Tatulescu Der Zwerg: Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, John Daszak L'Enfant et les sortilèges: Yulia Sokolik, Kevin Conners

L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Magic Spells) / Der Zwerg (The Dwarf)

Maurice Ravel /
Alexander Zemlinsky
L'Enfant et les sortilèges: Libretto by Colette
Der Zwerg: Libretto by Georg C. Klaren after Oscar Wilde's The Birthday of the Infanta


L’Enfant et les Sortilèges

The Child does not want to work at his lessons, all he wants to do are the things he is not allowed to do. When his mother sees this she punishes him by leaving him alone in his room for the whole of the afternoon with only unsweetened tea and dry bread. She has scarcely left the room when the Child suddenly loses control and wreaks destruction: he smashes the cup and teapot, breaks furniture, slashes the wallpaper, maltreats the pets and kindles the fire in the grate. When he stops, carried away by his anger, he starts to sink into a nightmarish fantasy in which the objects and the animals take on human characteristics.

The Armchair and the Bergère are happy not to provide the naughty Child with a seat any longer. The Comtoise Clock strikes uncontrollably, no longer able to keep to the hour. The black Wedgwood Teapot and the Chinese cup quarrel and attack each other. The Child barely has time to bemoan the loss of his beautiful cup before the Fire spits at him out of the hearth and threatens to burn the him. The Child anxiously looks on as a procession of shepherds and shepherdesses from his torn wallpaper passes by, lamenting the destruction of their peaceful harmony. The Princess rises out of the torn pages of the book of fairy tales and the Child recognizes in her his first love. The Child tries to hold the Princess back as she sinks through the floor and thus save the love between them – but in vain. Instead a Little Old Man and a wild jumble of  Numbers appear and bombard the Child with snatches of mathematical challenges from the arithmetic book.

Completely exhausted, the Child notices the Black Cat, who now embarks on an erotic love duet with the White Cat. As if by a miracle the Child is transported into the garden where various  sounds of Animals and a chorus of Frogs are to be heard. This peaceful mood in natural sourroundings is brought to a sudden end by the lamenting of the Trees, whose bark has been cut by the Child. A Dragonfly is looking for its mate which has, however, been pinned to the wall by the Child. The Squirrel accuses the Child of having held her captive in a cage merely because of her beautiful eyes and warns the Tree Frog that he might suffer a similar fate. The Child senses the love that prevails amongst all the animals around him and, feeling lonely, calls out for his mother. All the animals unite against the naughty Child and goad each other into a battle in which the Squirrel is injured. When the Child lovingly bandages up the Squirrel’s wounds and remains lying motionless on the ground himself, all the animals are touched and unite in calling for his mother.

The Dwarf

The Infanta’s birthday is to be celebrated with great festivities: under the supervision of the major-domo, Don Estoban, the presents are being put on display. The maids cannot contain their curiosity, which is affecting their work. Don Estoban calls them to order. Even before the festivities begin, the Infanta bursts in accompanied by her entourage, causing quite an upset and wanting to see her presents. It takes a great deal of skill on the part of Don Estoban to persuade her to the contrary and urge her and her entourage to leave. Relieved, he tells the maids about the individual presents and announces that there is a very special one among them: a real dwarf, who is to entertain the guests with his songs. It transpires that the dwarf is ugly, but that he has no idea that this is the case as he has never seen himself in the mirror. Thereupon all the mirrors are covered.

The climax of the celebrations is the dwarf’s performance. He astonishes the guests with his sad song and they make fun of him. The Infanta would like the dwarf to marry one of her ladies but he only has eyes for her. Moved by his obviously heartfelt longing, the Infanta sends everyone away in order to be alone with the dwarf. It becomes clear that he thinks of himself as some kind of latter-day knight who will rescue the Infanta from all harm. She imagines him to be a handsome hero. They declare their love for each other. Just as he wants to kiss her, the Infanta is called away to dance by Ghita, her favourite among her entourage. Having promised the dwarf that she will dance with him, she instructs Ghita to show him a mirror. Ghita does not have the heart to do this. During the dance the Infanta gives the dwarf a white rose. Left alone, the dwarf catches sight of himself in a mirror for the first time and is forced to realize that he looks completely different to what he had imagined. He collapses, exhausted by his struggle with his image in the mirror. When the Infanta returns she calls him repulsive and finally returns to the ballroom. Ghita hurries on to the scene just in time to grant him his wish to die with the white rose in his arms.