Hans Gál: The Sacred Duck (arranged by: Rainer Schottstädt)

Hans Gál The Sacred Duck
The Sacred Duck

Hans Gál: The Sacred Duck (arranged by: Rainer Schottstädt)

op. 15
Year of composition:
abridged version for children
Scored for:
for chamber orchestra
Hans Gál
Rainer Schottstädt (2003)
perc, hp, pno(2), Str(6 6 4 4 2)
Instrumentation details:
1st piano (+cel)
2nd piano (+harm)
violin I(6)
violin II(6)
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The Sacred Duck

The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

As with Krenek’s The Secret Kingdom, the version of Gál’s The Sacred Duck for children was written at the instigation of Christian Schuller, who led the series Opera for Children in the Yakult Hall at the Cologne Opera. Together with Elke Heidenreich, Schuller is responsible for the libretto with all its cuts (reducing the original duration of three hours to about 60 minutes).

A land in the Far East: the gods are bored, and so they decide to meddle in affairs of the people. Yang, a simple breeder of ducks, sets out to the Mandarin’s palace, where he must deliver a duck for the evening festival banquet; along the way, he is enchanted by the beauty and song of the Mandarin’s wife. Thus he does not notice that his duck has been stolen. The feast begins and the Mandarin threatens Yang with the death penalty if he does not deliver a duck. The gods enter the picture and exchange the souls of Yang and the Mandarin. Yang abolishes the death penalty; but when he declares that the gods are superfluous, it is too much for them – they reverse the exchange of souls. The duck reappears the next morning; the Mandarin, interpreting this as a divine sign, raises Yang to the rank of Bonze – but Yang declines the honour, preferring to seek his fortune in the wide world.

Yang, a simple duck-breeder, is on his way to the mandarin’s palace, where he is to deliver a duck for the evening’s festive banquet, when he succumbs to the enchantment of the mandarin’s beauteous consort and her song. Bewitched, he does not notice when someone steals the duck. The festivities commence, and the mandarin threatens Yang with the death penalty if he does not produce a duck. The gods intervene and switch Yang’s soul with the mandarin’s; in the latter form, Yang abolishes the death penalty. But when he declares the gods to be superfluous, they are not amused, and reverse the exchange of souls …

Programme booklet, Oper Köln, March 2007

After Hans Gál’s remarkable success as a musician with his firstling opera Der Arzt der Sobeide [The Doctor of Sobeide] in Breslau ten years ago, the Düsseldorf City Theatre decided to premiere the composer’s second opera four years later. Also in three acts, this work – worthy of note for its spirited, graceful libretto alone – was received so enthusiastically under George Szell’s baton that a goodly number of German opera houses immediately scheduled it for performance.  In Breslau, Die heilige Ente [The Holy Duck] was General Manager Tietjen’s concluding success before he took up his new post at the City Opera in Berlin, where he began his tenure with Gál’s opera; Marie Schreker (wife of composer Franz Schreker) sang the female lead role. Die heilige Ente, set in China (like Puccini’s Turandot, but written several years earlier and without that composer’s bombastic rendering of that country), has already been given in over fourteen German houses.

Hans Gál belongs to no particular school or movement, having never submitted to any dogma. He thoroughly adheres to Classical and Pre-Classical instrumental and vocal forms, colouring them melodically with thematic schemes sensitively invented and personally nuanced, always with a sure touch for gentle transitional harmonies. With all its painstaking and artistically rendered detail, Gál’s music yet bears the stamp of Truth which is “objective” in a sense which is as modern as it is generally valid. Both his first two operas are in a congenial vein; The Holy Duck evolves in an atmosphere of humour and irony, exemplified in Act II, where the brains of the mandarin and the coolie, the impostor and the bonze are interchanged – this bizarre idea (from a poem by Karl M. Levetzov and the precocious young Viennese Leo Feld) unfolds at a lively and dashing pace in the music - back in Haydn’s time, one might have said “con spirito.” […]

Radio Wien/1929/Dr. Elsa Bienenfeld


World première

Yakult-Halle, Köln (DE)
Gürzenich-Orchester Kölner Philharmonie
Alvaro Palmen
Main soloists:
Raphael Schwarzer - Mandarin; Sharon Kempton - Li, seine Gemahlin; Marian Olszewski - Kuli Yang; Susanna Thomas - Tänzerin; Christoph Hülsmann - Gaukler; Francisco Vergara - Bonze; Joslyn Rechter/Patrizia Herborn - Haushofmeister

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