Opera in three acts (four pictures) by Paul Hindemith after a stage plot by Ferdinand Lion original version from 1926 (world premiere in Dresden)
A series of mysterious crimes is testing the nerves of the people of Paris. They know that a murderer is among them. They are driven by fear. Everyone is a suspect. A leader announces that everyone can put their trust in the king’s court. The pieces of jewellery that the goldsmith Cardillac makes in his workshop are of heavenly beauty – yet a curse seems to hang over his art: it is always his customers who are killed by the dreadful murderer. His jewellery is always stolen during the act. As a gift from her lover, the Lady wishes for Cardillac’s most beautiful creation ever. Her Cavalier foresees his fate, yet the promises of a night of love are stronger than his fear. He gives his loved one a magnificent belt. A masked figure enters the chamber unnoticed. The Cavalier and the Lady are stabbed; the belt is torn from their bodies.
A gold dealer finds the goldsmith in his workshop acting strangely, unlike his normal self. He develops a disturbing suspicion and decides to watch Cardillac. Cardillac’s daughter is plagued by a moral conflict: she loves an officer, but does not want to leave her father. Cardillac takes little interest in her: «I’ll give you him, and him you, unseen.” The Officer, too, wants Cardillac’s most beautiful creation. It is only when Cardillac realises that these words refer not to his jewellery, but to his daughter, that he calms down. The Officer recognises Cardillac’s dangerous mania and makes him sell him a chain. Unable to think of anything other than the loss of the chain, Cardillac sets out to fill the «gaping space”. Cardillac’s attack goes wrong – the Officer is able to defend himself. Not wanting to put his love for Cardillac’s daughter at risk, he lets the goldsmith go free and accuses the gold dealer of the attempted murder.
The people of Paris celebrate the end of the terror and ostracise the criminal.
Cardillac, defending the gold dealer’s acts, becomes caught up in contradictions and finally gives himself away as the murderer. The crowd leaps on him and knocks him to the ground. «Why, people, do you set yourselves up as his judge? Do you not comprehend? He was the victim of a sacred mania” the Officer rebukes the raging mob. The people bow down in reverent worship. «A hero has died.” Above everything else rises the masterpiece, and alongside it its creator Cardillac.