How does the story about the clothes that make the man end? Featuring splendid rhythmic motifs, striking harmonic inversions and combinations of orchestral colours, Zemlinsky’s music wittily renders the micro-world of the provincial town, its inhabitants, their selfishness, stupidity and envy, the banality of their conversations, and even such details as the smell of coffee and tobacco smoke. “I sew and sew, we need burghers and dandies in tail-coats, soldiers, doctors and all the others! Only clothes make the man”, sings Zemlinsky’s hero, whose folk melody passes throughout the opera as the key musical and semantic leitmotif.
The opera’s original version premiered in 1910 at the Wiener Volksoper, conducted by the composer himself. In 1922, Zemlinsky presented its revised version at the Neues deutsches Theater (today’s State Opera) in Prague, where he held the post of Opera director. Now, more than a century later, the piece is returning to the venue where its second and final version was first performed. A new adaptation of Kleider machen Leute has been undertaken by the Dutch stage director Jetske Mijnssen, who has garnered acclaim in Berlin (Komische Oper), Amsterdam, Zurich, Graz, etc.