"Cardillac" Arrest: Hindemith's Work is the Operatic "Caligari"

And speaking of bad guys…

A delightful development in the world of opera dvds has occurred.  Two (!) versions of Paul Hindemith’s 1926 opus, Cardillac have recently appeared.  I make the assumption that even serious opera fans may not be acquainted with this fascinating piece, except in Germany.  Maybe there are old records of Hans Rosbaud or Otto Klemperer conducting it, I haven’t looked. I assume there are cds of the work… Arkiv probably has some.

As in the cartoons, only a puff of dust was in the air to indicate where I’d been been just prior to rushing off to order the DG Munich production, featuring one of the great Wotans and my favorite Sachs, Donald McIntyre, New Zealand’s claim to operatic greatness as Cardillac, the murderous goldsmith, and the redoubtable  Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting a  production directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, from the Munich  Staatsoper (1985).

Robert Wiene’s cinematic masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari(1919) is commonly supposed to be the definitive expressionistic statement in film; Cardillac is a sort of musical equivalent. Nightmarish obsession is coupled with grotesque humor and unexpected pathos in the opera, as in the film.  Like Fritz Lang’s “M”, one is dealing with a vicious psychopath who not only cannot help himself, but is perversely proud of his crimes; they are a part of himself, the most intimate part of himself.  Hindemith, in his “bad boy” period, is a greater exponent of Berlin asphalt grittiness than Kurt Weill, who was a theatrical master and a creator of memorable, even immortal tunes, but whose greatest works (Dreigroschenoper and Mahagonny) are simple to a fault compared with Hindemith’s comprehensive musical technique.

Weirdly, I also perceived Cardillac to be a cruelly ironic gloss on Wagner’s Die Meistersinger;  the story of a craftsman in love with his craft, who takes that love a little too far; way, way too far in Cardillac.  The versatile McIntyre is as perfect for the Mr. Hyde side, Cardillac, as he is for the Dr. Jeckyll side, Hans Sachs.  A monster in the one case and a noble human being in the other (Hans Sachs, not Stevenson’s mediocre Dr. Jeckyll) these two opposites are crazily similiar in at least some of their conceits.  In fact, Hindemith ought to have altered the E.T.A. Hoffman story by setting it in Nuremburg rather than Paris.  But if he did that, Regiedirectors would inevitably bring in the Nazis. Yuck.

I recommend this opera, and the dvd mentioned, with great conviction. 


on 2007-08-24 20:38 by John Gibbons

Hindemith - Cardillac

Hindemith -


Wolfgang Sawallisch,

Donald McIntyre,

Robert Schunk,

Maria de Francesca-Cavazza,

Hans Gunter Nocker

Hindemith - Cardillac

Hindemith -


Alan Held,

Angela Denoke,

Christopher Ventris,

Hannah Esther Minutillo,

Charles Workman

M - Criterion Collection


- Criterion Collection

starring Peter Lorre,

Ellen Widmann,

Inge Landgut,

Otto Wernicke,

Theodor Loos

The Threepenny Opera: Criterion Collection

Kurt Weill

The Threepenny Opera

Criterion Collection

starring G.W. Pabst,

Lotte Lenya,

Rudolf Forster

Kurt Weill - The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny / Peter Zadek · Denis Russell Davies - G. Jones · C. Malfitano · J. Hadley - Salzburg Festival 1997

Kurt Weill -

The Rise

and Fall of the City

of Mahagonny

Peter Zadek

Denis Russell Davies

Salzburg Festival 1997

starring Gwyneth Jones

Cornelius Smith (II),

Wilbur Pauley, Catherine

Malfitano, Jerry Hadley