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The Gesamtkunstwerk and Its Discontents: The Wounded Voice in (and around) Alexander von Zemlinsky’s The Dwarf

The Gesamtkunstwerk and Its Discontents: The Wounded Voice in (and around) Alexander von Zemlinsky’s The Dwarf

Chapter:
(p.209) 10 The Gesamtkunstwerk and Its Discontents: The Wounded Voice in (and around) Alexander von Zemlinsky’s The Dwarf
Source:
The Voice as Something More
Author(s):
David J. Levin
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226656427.003.0011

This paper explores the dramaturgy of vocality and corporeality in Alexander von Zemlinsky’s one-act opera Der Zwerg (The Dwarf, 1919-1921) via three distinct but interrelated scenes: first, the scene that Richard Wagner sets in his infamous essay “Judaism in Music” of 1850/1869. In Wagner’s pamphlet, the Jewish voice is inflected as monstrous, at once unintentionally comical and tragically deluded. We hear echoes of Wagner’s critique in the soundscape of Der Zwerg, which in turn revisits the famous Prize Song scene in Act Three of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. And beyond the vocal dramaturgy of Zemlinsky’s piece is a central scene of visuality: the dwarf recognizes his hideousness by apprehending his reflection in the mirror. That scene invites reference to the scene of traumatic recognition set by Jacques Lacan in his 1936 lecture on “The Mirror Stage." Lacan’s argument about the constitutive rivenness of the subject helps us to grasp the vocal and corporeal stakes of Der Zwerg. The spectacle of the dwarf’s corporeality figures the predicament of difference in the wake of the Gesamtkunstwerk and the role of the voice in rendering that predicament.

Keywords:   vocal dramaturgy, corporeality, Jewish voice, traumatic recognition, Alexander Zemlinsky, Der Zwerg / The Dwarf, Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Jacques Lacan, mirror stage

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