Zimmermann grew up and studied in the German Democratic Republic. In his opera
Die zweite Entscheidung, he had chosen a political topic, a scientist's conflict, located in a present-day city there. In contrast, Der Schuhu und die fliegende Prinzessin is a fairy tale in a utopia, but with political analogies and allusions. Zimmermann wrote the opera on a commission from the Staatsoper Dresden, after completing his opera
Levin's Mühle. The libretto, by the composer and Eberhard Schmidt, is based on an eponymous fairy tale by Peter Hacks, which appeared in 1964 in a literary magazine, Sinn und Form, and which was arranged in dramatic form shortly after. The opera was premiered at the Staatsoper on 30 December 1976, staged by Harry Kupfer and conducted by Peter Gülke. A first performance in West Germany was staged at the Staatstheater Darmstadt in 1977, and a shorter version was presented at the Salzburg Festival in 1995, directed by
Michael Heinicke and conducted by the composer.
Der Schuhu und die fliegende Prinzessin was published by Breitkopf in both the original version which takes about 165 minutes to perform, and the abridged Salzburg version of 120 minutes.