Saturday, February 09, 2013


This is such an unbearably sad opera.

Humperdinck's Königskinder is a fairy tale opera, and fairy tales don't usually have the happy endings of those we love today.  Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty all find their princes.  We love Hansel and Gretel.  We love to see the witch pushed into the oven and come out a cookie.  We love to see the children come back to life and dance around.  We would not love it if the citizens of a local town came in and destroyed everything.

Witch:  Liliana Nikiteanu
Goose-girl:  Isabel Rey
King's Son:  Jonas Kaufmann
Fiddler:  Oliver Widmer

Conductor:  Ingo Metzmacher

One set is a room full of plant stands with cutouts of geese to represent the witch's home.  The King's son comes and sees the Goose-girl and immediately falls in love with her.  He gives her the crown.  She looks around for somewhere to put it and chooses the prompter's box.

In another scene the community is sitting on benches that look like a cross between a school dining room and a fast food restaurant.  The townspeople are so unpleasant and hateful.  They are told that at a precise moment the King will enter the town.  Then at that exact moment the Goose-girl comes in wearing the crown, and they laugh at her and tear the place up.  Only a young girl and the fiddler know that they were truly the King and Queen.

This is like politics.  If the savior came, would we scorn him?  Oh.  Sorry.  We did.  I digress. 

There is a long introduction to the third act, and the action resumes in the same destroyed room with the young girl still sitting in her place.  Snow comes in through the broken windows.  The fiddler is now blind, and the witch is dead.  The children and fiddler go out to look for the King and Queen.

When everyone has gone, the King and Queen climb in through one of the broken windows.  He carries her and calls her light as a feather.  How many tenors could do this?  They are lost and starving.  He cannot find the way back to his kingdom.

I have always thought of Engelbert Humperdinck as the closest of Wagner's followers.  The technique is similar, the harmony and flow of the scenes.  But the emotional content is entirely different.  He does not want the heavy growl of pomposity that Wagner loved, preferring a much lighter sweetness. 

Spoiler alert:  the King sells his crown for a piece of bread that the witch poisoned.  Sigh.  The music is all very sweet.

They shout for Jonas.  He looks remarkably young in this film, clean shaven, unlike the picture on the cover.  Without the facial hair he looks about 18.

Short post script:  this opera had its premier at the Metropolitan Opera with Geraldine Farrar as the Goose-girl.  She trained the shown flock of geese for her performances.


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