Karl V.
Opera by Ernst Krenek
Titian's Last Judgment, owned by the emperor (depicted in a white robe at the upper right), and called for as a stage backdrop (El Prado)
DescriptionBühnenwerk mit Musik
Based onCharles V
22 June 1938 (1938-06-22)

Karl V. is an opera, described as a Bühnenwerk mit Musik (stage work with music) by Ernst Krenek, his opus 73. The German libretto is by the composer. His student Virginia Seay collaborated with him on the English translation of the libretto.[1]

The first completed full-length twelve-tone opera[2] tells the story of Emperor Charles V's life in a series of flashbacks on a split stage, devices which the composer only much later recognized as "cinematic" in style;[3] there is also some use of Sprechstimme.


Originally commissioned in 1930 by the Vienna State Opera for performance in 1934, this much anticipated work[4] became a cause célèbre when the production was cancelled after Krenek was blacklisted in Germany by the Nazi government immediately following the German parliamentary elections in March 1933.[5] The composer believed it was its strong emphasis on Christian universality that made Karl V. "utterly intolerable" to the Nazis.[6] A concert suite for soprano (Fragmente aus dem Bühnenwerk Karl V., Op. 73a) was performed in 1936, and the opera was staged for the first time on 22 June 1938 at the Neues Deutsches Theater in Prague, by which time Krenek had fled overseas. In 1954 he revised the score for the first revival in Germany. A fully staged production of the opera was performed in the Festspielhaus of the Bregenzer Festspiele in the summer of 2008, and is available on DVD.


Roles, voice types, premiere cast
Role Voice type Premiere cast, 22 June 1938[7]
Conductor: Karl Rankl
Emperor Charles V baritone Pavel Ludikar
Juana, his mother contralto Lydia Kindermann
Eleonore, his sister soprano Martha Cuno
Ferdinand, his brother tenor Kurt Baum
Isabella, his wife soprano
Juan de Regla, his confessor speaking role
Henri Mathys, his physician
Francisco Borgia, a Jesuit, formerly the Empress' steward tenor
Alarcon, captain of the Emperor speaking role
Alba, captain of the Emperor speaking role
Frundsberg, captain of the Emperor speaking role
Imperial chancellor
Francis I, king of France tenor
Frangipani tenor
Clement VII speaking role
A cardinal speaking role
Luther baritone
A follower of Luther tenor
Moritz von Sachsen, a Protestant prince speaking role
Sultan Soliman bass
His astrologer tenor


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Krenek: Karl V. – Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna

Krenek: Karl V. – Bonn Beethovenhalle Orchestra



  1. ^ Stewart, John Lincoln (1991-01-01). Ernst Krenek: The Man and His Music. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-07014-1.
  2. ^ Schoenberg's Von heute auf morgen (1928) is in one act.
  3. ^ Ogdon 1972, 104, reprinted in Krenek 1974, 145.
  4. ^ The work is mentioned in almost any issue of Modern Music from 1933–1935.
  5. ^ Zenck 1985, 131.
  6. ^ Ogdon 1972, 103.
  7. ^ Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Karl V, 22 June 1938". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).


Further reading