King Kandaules

Opera in three acts

by composer Alexander von Zemlinsky

Opera Vlaanderen

Opera Antwerp and Opera Ghent (Belgium)



Creative Team

Musical director                            Dmitri Jurowski

Staging                                         Andriy Zholdak

Set                                                Andriy Zholdak and A.J. Weissbard

Costumes                                     Tuomas Lampinen

Lighting                                         A.J. Weissbard

Dramaturgy                                  Luc Joosten

Orchestra                                     Symphonic Orchestra Opera Vlaanderen


König Kandaules                      Dmitry Golovnin

Nyssia                                       Elisabet Strid

Gyges                                       Gidon Saks

Phedros                                    Vincenzo Neri

Syphax                                     Michael J.Scott

Philebos                                   Tijl Faveyts

Nicomedes                               Toby Girling

Pharnaces                                Leonard Bernad

Sebas                                      Adam Smith

Simias                                     William Helliwell

Archelaos                                Thierry Vallier




Next performances

Opera Antwerpen - 27 March, 30 March, 1 April,  3 April

Opera Ghent - 13 April, 16 April, 19 April, 24 April















copyright all photos Annemie Augustijns


 Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871 – 1942)

was an Austrian composer, conductor, and teacher. His best-known work is the Lyric Symphony (1923), a seven-movement piece for soprano, baritone and orchestra, set to poems by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (in German translation). The work in turn influenced Alban Berg's Lyric Suite, which quotes from it and is dedicated to Zemlinsky.

Other orchestral works include the large-scale symphonic poem Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid). Other works include eight operas, including Eine florentinische Tragödie (1915–16) and the semi-autobiographical Der Zwerg (The Dwarf, 1919–21), both after Oscar Wilde; chamber music and the ballet Der Triumph der Zeit (1901). He also composed three psalm settings for chorus and orchestra and numerous song cycles, both with piano and with orchestra, of which the Sechs Gesänge, Op. 13, to texts by Maurice Maeterlinck.

As a conductor, Zemlinsky was admired by, among others, Kurt Weill and Stravinsky, not only for his notable interpretations of Mozart, but also for his advocacy of Mahler, Schoenberg and much other contemporary music. As a teacher, his pupils included Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Hans Krása and Karl Weigl. Alexander Zemlinsky is one of those composers who do not enjoy great renown and yet were very highly regarded in their time. Zemlinsky stands between times and styles but in this intermediary position he found a rich, unmistakeable, musical language. His personality and work epitomise one of the most fascinating epochs of art in Europe.

For several decades after his death the music of Zemlinsky was more or less disregarded. It was not until the 1970s that his central works were performed and recorded. The re-assessment of his biography also led to the renaissance of a composer whose music combines in incomparable manner the trends of half a century. The phase of rediscovery can be regarded as having reached fruition with the world premiere of Der König Kandaules at the Hamburg State Opera in 1996. Now the public again has the music of a composer about whom Schoenberg said in 1949, “I always firmly believed that he was a great composer and I still believe this. It is possible that his time will come sooner than we think”.


King Kandaules libretto by Franz Blei based on the novel Le roi Candaule by Andre Gide.

Zemlinsky completed the short score of the opera in 1935, but the orchestration remained unfinished when the composer, due to his Jewish ancestry, fled the Nazis into exile in the United States in 1938. Zemlinsky hoped for a production at the Metropolitan Opera in New York but when the principal conductor Artur Bodanzky (a former pupil of Zemlinsky's), told him that a nude scene in the second act would make the opera unstageable there, Zemlinsky abandoned the project.

In 1990, the British conductor and musicologist Antony Beaumont discovered that it was possible to complete the orchestration of King Kandaules without additional composition. He did so after receiving an official commission from the Hamburg State Opera in 1991.




Place: Lydia             Time: Ancient times

Act 1

During the preparations for a feast, the Lydian king Kandaules announces that he wants to show his wife Nyssia unveiled to his favourites for the first time. When a magic ring (that makes whoever wears it invisible) is found in the belly of a fish, the king summons the fisherman Gyges. At first, the fisherman is indifferent, but when it is revealed that his wife Trydo has been unfaithful to him, he kills her in front of all the guests. Kandaules is fascinated and invites Gyges to his castle.

Act 2

Kandaules wants to share his immense wealth, including his beautiful wife, with all his friends. He convinces Gyges to use the magic ring in order to behold the naked Nyssia. Events turn against the king, when the invisible Gyges spends the night with Nyssia, who mistakes the fisherman for Kandaules.

Act 3

Gyges reveals his true identity to Nyssia and expects to be executed. Nyssia however feels humiliated and betrayed by her husband, and orders Gyges to kill the king. She then crowns Gyges the new king of Lydia.


400px Etty Candaules_King_of_Lydia_Shews_his_Wife_to_Gyges

The image of King Kandaules been many time realised in painting art by different painters. Here is one of them -  The Imprudence of Kandaules, iol painting on canvas by English artist Willia Etty, first exhibited in 1830.

He shows a scene from the Histories by Herodotus, in which Kandaules, king of Lydia, invites his bodyguard Gyges to hide in their bedroom and watch his wife Nyssia undress, to prove to him her beauty. Nyssia notices Gyges spying, and challenges him to either kill himself or Candaules as a punishment; Gyges chooses to kill Candaules and to become king in his place. The painting shows the moment at which Nyssia, at this point unaware that she is being watched by anyone other than her husband, removes the last of her clothes.




Premier 25 March 2016


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