The King Kandaules


October 17, 2021

The King Kandaules is an opera by Alexander Zemlinsky. The libretto comes from the composer himself and is an adaptation of André Gide's drama Le Roi Candaule. The composition was initially unfinished. It was only completed in November 1993 by Antony Beaumont and premiered in this version on October 6, 1996 in Hamburg. The story is an old story from ancient Asia Minor, already mentioned by Herodotus, and deals with the dethronement of the ancestral Lydian royal dynasty under King Sadyattes I (Kandaules) by Gyges, the founder of the Mermnaden.


First act

King Kandaules and poor fisherman Gyges have known each other since childhood, but have since become estranged. Gyges only owns five things: his hut, his boat, his net, his wife and his poverty. He delivers a fish for a feast of the king. Kandaules is very proud of the beauty of his wife Nyssia and takes the opportunity to present her to his courtiers for the first time, lifting her face veil. Nyssia is not very enthusiastic about being examined like an object against all custom. Archelaos, one of the guests, finds a ring inside the fish that bears the inscription: "I hide happiness". Gyges is summoned to solve the riddle. While they wait, the guests watch his hut go up in flames. Gyges says she was accidentally set on fire by his drunken wife Trydo. Kandaules has them fetched too. When the guest hints at Seba's loyalty, Gyges murders her with a knife. Kandaules is impressed by Gyges and makes him his confidante.

Second act

The friendship between Gyges and Kandaules is revived. They drink wine together and talk about the reasons for Gyges ’murder of his wife. Gyges explains that he loved her but didn't want to share her with anyone else. Kandaules wants to seal the friendship by sharing his most precious treasure with Gyges - the sight of his naked wife. He forces the initially struggling Gyges on the ring he found in the fish, which he has since discovered to be magical and has the ability to make its wearer invisible. Nyssia enters the bedroom. She is still angry about her public exposure. Kandaules helps her undress and secretly leaves the room. The invisible Gyges is now alone with her. He cannot resist her beauty and spends the night with her who thinks he is her husband.

Third act

The next day Philobus tells the other courtiers about the effect of the ring: The king is still looking for the invisible bearer. Meanwhile, Nyssia Kandaules raves about last night, which makes him madly jealous. The still invisible Gyges overhears the conversation. He is so tormented by remorse that he confesses the deception to Nyssia. The queen, deeply offended in her honor, takes revenge on her husband's betrayal by forcing Gyges to kill Kandaules and take his place. While he is still dying, Kandaules forgives his friend. Thus Gyges is now king at Nyssia's side, but hardly less defeated than his friend and adversary Kandaules. Nyssia declares that she will never wear a veil again.


The myth of King Kandaules was processed in 1844 by Théophile Gautier in the novella Le Roi Candaule and in 1854 by Friedrich Hebbel in the drama Gyges und seine Ring. In 1899 André Gide created his play Le roi Candaule, which was premiered in Paris in 1901 and translated into German by Franz Blei in 1905. This version was first performed in January 1906 at the Deutsches Volkstheater in Vienna. She was not a great success and only saw three performances. One found in Berlin in 1908

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