THE SNOW QUEEN – Premiere of the English version

Composer Hans Abrahamsen gave himself plenty of time for his first opera. He needed it to find the singing in his otherwise instrumental music. The breakthrough came with the arrival of soprano Barbara Hannigan, for whom he wrote the Let me tell you vocal cycle. With Hannigan’s voice in mind he also wrote his opera, The Snow Queen, which celebrated its Danish-language world premiere in Copenhagen on 13 October 2019. The English-language premiere of The Snow Queen will be staged at the Bayerische Staatsoper, with Barbara Hannigan in the lead role of Gerda.

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From fairy-tale to trauma drama

The Snow Queen is staged by Andreas Kriegenburg, who has already brought Der Ring des Nibelungen, Wozzeck and Die Soldaten to the stage at the Bayerische Staatsoper. In the literary original, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale Die Schneekönigin, little Kai loses all emotion with a diabolical troll-mirror shard in the eye and heart, and is kidnapped by the Snow Queen. But his friend Gerda begins an arduous journey to rescue Kai. Kriegenburg places Gerda’s unconditional devotion to her friendship with Kai at the centre. With this story he is interested in the notion that, “someone in society becomes so cold that they withdraw into their very own inner snow-covered landscape.” In the Munich production Gerda and Kai are a grown-up pair. Possibly traumatised, Kai has withdrawn into a silence similar to the phenomenon of mutism and refuses all communication.

The role of Kai, conceived as a breeches role, is embodied by mezzo-soprano Rachael Wilson. Peter Rose can be enjoyed as the Snow Queen. The idea of having a bass sing the role of the Snow Queen was Barbara Hannigan’s: “A bass baritone can be very seductive […] or even moving and comforting.” The conductor is Cornelius Meister, who last conducted at the Bayerische Staatsoper with the 5th Academy Concert 2016/17.

Timeline: Hans Abrahamsen at the Bayerischen Staatsoper