Composer Engelbert Humperdinck

Friday, 14. December 2007
07:00 pm – 10:25 pm

Duration est. 3 hours 25 minutes · 1. Akt (est. 07:00 pm - 08:10 pm ) · Interval (est. 08:10 pm - 08:40 pm ) · 2. + 3. Akt (est. 08:40 pm - 10:25 pm )

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Musikalische Leitung
Thomas Rösner
Andreas Homoki
Wolfgang Gussmann
Susana Mendoza
Wolfgang Gussmann
Franck Evin
Andrés Máspero

Der Königssohn
Robert Gambill
Die Gänsemagd
Juliane Banse
Der Spielmann
Roman Trekel
Die Hexe
Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Der Holzhacker
Christoph Stephinger
Der Besenbinder
Ulrich Reß
Ein Kind
Talia Or
Der Ratsälteste
Andreas Kohn
Der Wirt
Rüdiger Trebes
Die Wirtstochter
Heike Grötzinger
Der Schneider
Kenneth Roberson
Die Stallmagd
Cynthia Jansen
Torwächter I
Torwächter II
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Not just another Hänsel und Gretel! The story of the prince, the goose girl and the witch only seems to be taken from a fairy tale - but it is actually based wholly on our own world: being royal means being sensitive, noble and upright. Character traits like these shape outsiders - and those individuals are destroyed. Bottom line: royal children can't come together because no society wants them. Königskinder: a musical flush of great melodious beauty! For opera fans "a temptation" between Richard Wagner and Alban Berg - for people curious about opera much more: "an enchantment". The come-back of an opera.


The story of the king’s children:


Once upon a time there was an old witch who lived in the depths of a dark forest. She had cast a spell on a young girl, whom she forced to look after her geese in the forest  and who was to learn the art of witchcraft from her. The goose-girl, however, longed for sunshine and the company of other people. The witch compelled her, very much against her will, to bake a magic loaf of bread to eat which would bring death, and the goose-girl grew very heavy-hearted.

When the witch had gone into the forest one day, a prince appeared. He had left his father’s castle and was travelling incognito, disguised as a simple huntsman, in search of adventure. The prince fell in love with the goose-girl and was determined to make her his queen. The goose-girl was also greatly impressed by the prince, but afraid of not being of equal birth. As a sign of his love for her, the prince then gave her his crown and asked the girl to run away with him, but she could not break the spell which kept her prisoner in the forest. The prince, who could not understand why she hesitated, grew angry and left. She was left behind in despair. When the witch came home, the girl hid the crown from her, but the witch noticed how confused she was. The girl confessed that she had met the prince, whereupon the witch grew angry and locked the girl up. Shortly after this, the song of the minstrel was to be heard in the distance. He was on his way with the woodcutter and the broom-maker to visit the witch, who was to tell them who was to be the future king of the town of Hellabrunn. The old king had been dead for a long time and the townspeople wanted a successor worthy of their wealth and affluence. The witch prophesied that the first person, be it man or woman, to enter the town through the gates after the bells had rung the hour of noon on the following day would be their next king. The broom-maker and the woodcutter went on their way happy. The minstrel, however, had discovered the girl. When she told him about the prince, he decided to help her to look for him in order to lead the pair back to Hellabrunn as the next royal couple. Angrily the witch stood in their way and scoffed at them, saying that the girl’s parents were a murderer and a hangman’s daughter and that she could therefore never become queen. The minstrel comforted the girl, however, by saying that her parents had achieved kingly status through their love and sufferings and that she was therefore a king’s daughter. The goose-girl forgot her fears and prayed fervently that she would find the prince again.
Thereupon the magic spell of the forest was broken, the goose-girl had freed herself from the witch and went on her way with the minstrel.


Meanwhile the prince had arrived in Hellabrunn, where the townspeople were preparing to welcome the new king. The innkeeper’s daughter took a great liking to the prince, who had spent the night in the inn’s pigsty disguised as a begger. He had great difficulty in with- standing the advances of the innkeeper’s daughter. Disappointed at losing the goose-girl and indifferent to the innkeeper’s daughter, he even thought of returning home. But the sight of the garland of flowers the goose-girl had given him reminded him of why he had come to the town: „ Even though I was born to be king, I must first work to become a king,“ he had once sworn. So he decided to stay on for another year in Hellabrunn as a swineherd. When all the townspeople were gathered together, the woodcutter showed off by announcing that a king would be entering the town at noon, a king who would make everything right for everyone. Upon this, the prince stepped forward and explained to the townspeople that a real king would not increase their prebends but would raise them to the status of proud subjects. But the townspeople would have none of it and scorned him. When the innkeeper’s daughter also then accused him of not paying his bill, a great brawl ensued. At this point the bell tolled midday and the town gate opened. The goose-girl appeared accompanied by the minstrel. She was wearing the golden crown on her head and walked up to the prince, who greeted her happily as his queen. At first the townspeople laughed at this, but laughter turned to anger and they drove the begger and the goose-girl out of town. Only the broom-maker’s little daughter cried, because she realized that this was the king and queen.


Winter had come and the minstrel was living in the witch’s hut, lonely and sick. The witch had been burned at the stake by the townspeople of Hellabrunn. The woodcutter and the broom-maker found the minstrel in the hut; they were accompanied by a huge crowd of children and had come to fetch the minstrel back. But the minstrel had sworn that he would never enter Hellabrunn again. He did, however, promise the children that he would help them to look for the royal couple. When they had set off on their search, the prince and the goose-girl approached. They had been wandering about for a long time and had not found shelter anywhere. Hungry and exhausted, they came upon the witch’s hut, where the woodcutter and the broom-maker were warming themselves. The prince asked them in vain for food. Only when he offered them his crown did they give him in return a chunk of stale, dry bread which they had found in the hut. It was the witch’s deadly magic loaf on which she had once put a spell. The prince and the goose-girl each ate half of the loaf, whereupon they began to feel pleasantly drowsy and fell asleep and died, locked in each other’s arms. This was how the minstrel and the children found them. The minstrel mourned them and, with the help of the children, carried the royal couple to their graves.

© Bayerische Staatsoper

Anyone who hears the name Humperdinck always thinks immediately of Hänsel und Gretel, of Christmastime, and of their own childhood. But Königskinder, the composer's second fairytale opera, is probably unknown to most people – especially since it has hardly ever been performed over the last decades. What does one opera have that the other doesn't?

Homoki: Hänsel und Gretel is definitely a fairytale opera for children, and as a result is more popular. Königskinder uses the fairytale genre but has a far more didactic intention, and is aimed primarily at an adult audience. The first opera was originally a fairytale for domestic consumption, while the second one was written by an ambitious young female author. The fact that Humperdinck took the idea of Königskinder and made it first into a melodrama and then into a full-blown opera certainly has to do with his quest for a way to continue the legacy of Richard Wagner – after all, he was a disciple of Wagner's and also his assistant. The step from myth to fairytale was a short one, and it also offered him the opportunity to integrate the folklore elements he had already successfully tested out in Hänsel und Gretel into a new score.

Isn't the fairytale too naive and too simply structured to compete in any way with Wagnerian myth?

Homoki: This fairytale, Königskinder, is by no means naive. It may seem so at first because of its fairytale characters, its choice of locations and its narrative style. But the story is very serious, extremely symbolic and, ultimately, tragic.

Gussmann: Perhaps Humperdinck's experience with Hänsel und Gretel made him more familiar with the world of fairytale, which represents a parallel world just as mythology does. It's just that we're not so conscious of that because of course we grew up with it. The fairytale characters are prototypes, and more appealing than mythological figures, and that's why they seem more accessible to us – whereas they're actually harder to grasp.

What is the best approach to interpreting these characters?

Homoki: If we begin by looking at the contrast between the two main characters – the Prince and the Goose Girl – there's a clear polarity. One comes from high up on the social scale and the other from the very bottom. They meet each other, and turn out to be the ideal couple: the Goose Girl in that she frees herself from everything that is tying her down, and the Prince in that he gains social competence. The Goose Girl frees herself from the Witch and from the stigma of her past, from everything that prevents her from accepting her own identity, and this gives her a natural "royalty" – while the Prince, in contrast, has to gain true kingliness through humility, subordination and modesty. So the encounter between the two characters signifies two diametrically opposed positions that gradually move towards each other within the overall social structure. This contains the seed of a democratically run society. On the personal level, however, the characters' development also symbolizes the ideal of self-realization and of union with one's partner. The Spielmann and the Witch represent the forces to which each human being is exposed in such a process: the Witch, with her feminine connotations of forest, darkness and clairvoyance, represents maternal protection, but also an inhibiting and repressive principle, while the character of the Spielmann conveys the dynamic, goal-directed masculine principle. It is by no means a simple good-versus-evil relationship, however, because the Witch's behaviour also has a caring and protective side to it – especially when we discover the true nature of the townspeople of Hellabrunn, whom the Witch is eager to keep the Goose Girl away from.

Gussmann: It reflects the problems encountered in all education, in fact: the difficulty in recognizing the limit where nurture stops and repression starts. The character of the Witch demonstrates this to us very clearly. Unfortunately she is eliminated from the story too early and too radically. In Act Two she no longer appears, and in Act Three we learn that the angry townspeople burnt her to death.

The townspeople of Hellabrunn are not just a backdrop, as in most fairytales; their social, or rather anti-social, ways are characterized by various individual figures. And they are motivated – they propel the action forward because they want to have a king. What does this desire represent?

Homoki: In contrast to the striving for ideals we see in the "king's children", it represents a need that is more subconscious than apparent. After all, the actual job of ruling consists of avoiding chaos, and imposing an order whereby society can prosper and flourish. The townspeople of Hellabrunn are rich and prosperous, and have no need of that. But their prosperity is not enough to give their materialism-ridden lives any meaning or direction. And precisely that is what they truly desire.

Gussmann: Having the general populace express a particular need here is something very special. I think contemporary events played a part in it too: the social movement at the end of the 1890s, industrial growth, the yearning for emancipation. We know that Elsa Bernstein-Porges, who wrote the original play, was very interested in all of that. That could be why her fairytale townspeople are not simply passive, self-satisfied and lazy, but motivated in the way described.

Homoki: But the motivation is more unconscious than anything else. The people of Hellabrunn sense that they lack something, and they believe that the pomp and magnificence of a royal household will fill that gap.

Gussmann: With the children, in contrast, this need to find a meaning to life is quite genuine. Unlike the adults, they are in a position to recognize true values, and to articulate their wishes based on those values. They are not as blind as the adults yet, as confounded by the urge for material gain. The symbolic characters of the "king's children" and the "real" children of Hellabrunn represent the two levels where genuine encounters take place. The adults, in contrast, are doomed: the Witch is burnt, the Spielmann senses his approaching death, and by the end of Act One, Hellabrunn is no longer a prosperous place.

Not exactly fairytale scenery – or is it?

Gussmann: That depends on how you interpret it. Fairytales are inherently unreal. And our stage set is too. But we also want to make use of the world of children: the naive fantasy expressed in children's drawings also allows us certain interpretations. The forest standing on its head is as symbolic here as the way in which the people of Hellabrunn break into the fairytale world and flatten it entirely.

Homoki: The most important thing for us was to find a means of allowing the fairytale characters to develop within an unreal context. On the one hand they are archetypes, like the Witch, who can be evil and resort to magic, but on the other they are recognizably part of the social fabric and behave in recognizably human ways. So does the Spielmann – he acts as a playmaker, driving the action onward. In English he'd be referred to as a "plotter". We've expanded his role, too – in our production he's the person who sets out in search of ideal, naturally "royal" people, finds them, and does his best to establish them in society. In that way he resembles Wotan; indeed, Act One is strikingly reminiscent of the beginning of Wagner's Siegfried: in both situations a young person is kept in the dark about things, and brought up to serve certain interests. Then someone comes along who sees through the situation, who knows a great deal more, and who helps the young person to free himself.

Gussmann: The situations alternate between imprisonment and liberation, and we enhance this with a stage area that encloses but can also be broken through: it opens up and allows the characters through, but in the end it also limits them in their isolation. That is an important symbolic function of the area.

With the expanded role of the Spielmann, there seems to be more unity between the three acts, which, atmospherically, are very different.

Homoki: Whereby the three acts are very closely connected to each other, as a result of the leitmotif structure, which is very unusual but typical of Humperdinck. That's why I see this work as having great relevance – it's like a paraphrase of the course of each individual life, from hopes and grand ideals to a period of testing and then ultimate failure because of old age and one's own mortality. What the Prince and the Goose Girl have to say to each other at the end is only retrospective, as if they've both come a long way and have now reached the end of their lives. As far as that's concerned, this is not just the story of a couple who are treated badly and perish as a result. I think the shattering thing about the ending is that it's a reminder of the inevitability of the end that awaits us all.

But there's still hope – in this case, hope for the children.

Homoki: The children symbolize a romantic conception of unspoilt innocence, according to which being a child means still being able to see the unadorned truth that adults are no longer able to perceive. But at the end the Spielmann derives an overly high expectation from that: he expects the children to take over his legacy and internalize the fate of the Königskinder. The children cannot fulfil this. They have more important things to do. They have to live their own lives and find their own way. I think that is something that the Spielmann is just going to have to understand – just as he himself understands that his life, too, is finite, and subordinate to the eternal cycle of living and dying.

(The discussion was hosted by Dr. Hella Bartnig.)

Translation: David Ingram
© Bayerische Staatsoper

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Juliane Banse studierte nach einer Ballettausbildung am Opernhaus Zürich Gesang an der Hochschule für Musik und Theater in München. Im Alter von 20 Jahren gab sie ihr Debüt als Pamina in der Zauberflöte an der Komischen Oper Berlin. 

Seitdem folgten Engagements u.a. in Brüssel, Salzburg, Wien, Chicago, New York, Barcelona, Nantes und Amsterdam. Zur feierlichen Wiedereröffnung des Cuvilliés-Theaters sang sie 2008 die Partie der Ilia in der Idomeneo-Neuproduktion der Bayerischen Staatsoper. Ihr Repertoire umfasst Partien wie Tatjana (Eugen Onegin), Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Leonore (Fidelio) und die Titelpartien in Arabella und Genoveva. Sowohl für ihre Einspielung von Walter Braunfels' Jeanne d'Arc als auch für Gustav Mahlers 8. Sinfonie erhielt sie den ECHO Klassik 2011.

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