The clue is in the title, Der Zwerg (The Dwarf). Alexander Zemlinsky’s heart-wrenching opera about identity, rejection and callous ambivalence is about a special present given to the Spanish Infanta on her 18th birthday. A dwarf. The dwarf has no insight into his diminutive stature, and when people laugh at him, he thinks they are laughing with him. A darn good singer, he falls in love with the Infanta, is left a broken plaything, recognising himself for what he is when confronted in a mirror and dies of heartbreak.
In the closing moments, Mears delivered a coup de théâ which left his audience visibly shaken.