Opera by Paul Hindemith
Libretto by Ferdinand Lion based on E. T. A. Hoffmann’s short story “Das Fräulein von Scuderi”
World premiere on November 9, 1926 at Dresden Semperoper
Premiere at the Estonian National Opera on May 14, 2015
“Cardillac”, written in 1926, the first of Hindemith’s trilogy of operas about the relationship between the artist and society. The others being “Mathis der Maler” (1935) and “Die Harmonie der Welt” (1957). It includes some of the composer’s most engaging music, conveying the opera’s power, strange beauty, and eccentricity sometimes leading to absurdity. “Cardillac” was one of the most frequently performed operas of the 1920s and went on to become Hindemith’s most successful stage work of all.
The protagonist is a goldsmith Cardillac, who fabricates wonderful things and because of his obsession with them he also retrieves them by theft and murder. The plot revolves around the dilemma of revealing to the public that the beloved artist is also the criminal who made an entire city fearful. The citizens and police fail to make any connection between the coincidence of the purchases and murders until Cardillac finally confesses. A crowd then beats him to death, but after his daughter explains that the murders were merely the consequence of his love of beauty, they sing a ravishing eulogy.
Vilppu Kiljunen: “Paul Hindemith’s “Cardillac” is more than a crime story. It is a story of the unrestrainable power of human mind, passions and desire for death. What makes the opera especially fantastic, powerful and dramatic is not only its music, but the intensity of the plot that lasts throughout the opera. The people thirst for revenge and punishment – the culprit is the one least suspected. But the criminal is not important, what matters is the motive. Desire for beauty and following your inner drive can lead us to the dark side of life. Could we behave differently? Live differently? Does an artist, a human, follow anything but his inner drive? The conflict is born: the individual versus society. Whose rules do we follow? You will definitely face these questions either as a stage director or a spectator of “Cardillac”. I want to ask these questions in the same context that the opera was born. In my fantasy I see the plot in a black-and-white world, in a city that hunts for a murderer.”
Paul Hindemith (1895–1963) was one of the most outstanding representatives of German neo-classicism and one of the most varied 20th century composers. He has written in almost all genres: nine operas, three ballets, four symphonies, several oratorios and chamber music. He is also considered a pioneer of writing “utility music”, compositions for everyday occasions and practical purposes, reflecting a cultural trend in post-wars Germany. Combining traditional and experimental composition techniques, he created a unique style of his own. His early music is often atonal, but his later works return to tonality. The repertoire of the Estonian National Opera features also Hindemith’s short opera “The Long Christmas Dinner”.