Königskinder - Further information
Ernst Rosmer (Elsa Bernstein-Porges)
World première of the first version (melodrama) on January 23, 1897, Court Theatre, Munich
World première of the second version on December 28, 1910, Metropolitan Opera, New York
Opera goers, especially in Munich, are all too aware that Engelbert Humperdinck's fame rests exclusively on his opera Hänsel und Gretel which, for over a century, has introduced so many future fans to the art form. Hänsel und Gretel was, however, by no means a one-off from Humperdinck's pen. As a young man the composer studied architecture in Cologne before switching to piano, cello and composition and his instantly recognizable talents led him to become an inveterate prizewinner securing an income from one composing competition after another. In 1881 he won the Meyerbeer prize of 7,600 marks which was at that time a small fortune and enabled Humperdinck to travel to France and Italy where he met Richard Wagner becoming, to all intents and purposes, the great man's disciple and joining Wagner's circle in Bayreuth. During 1881/1882 Humperdinck assisted
Wagner on the preparation of Parsifal for its première even composing a part of
the first act transition for the master in order to lengthen the interlude and accommodate a complex scene change for the first performance.
Humperdinck taught at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt in the 1880s and, after the enormous success of Hänsel und Gretel, retired, in 1896, to Boppard am Rhein to concentrate on composing, his life cushioned by massive royalty income. Shortly before his move, Heinrich Porges asked the composer to produce incidental music for a play written by his daughter, Elsa Bernstein-Porges, already a distinguished playwright who wrote under the pseudonym of Ernst Rosmer. A condition of the commission was that the work should not be an opera per se but a melodrama mixing spoken dialogue and song with a new kind of rhythmically notated "Sprechgesang" anticipating the future of Schönberg and Berg. This version of the work was first performed here in Munich at the Hof- und Nationaltheater in 1897 and, although not particularly successful, still received many stagings before lapsing into obscurity.
A decade later Humperdinck returned to the raw material and refashioned it completely into a full-length three act music drama of Wagnerian scale. The world première of this "operatic" version took place at the Metro-politan Opera in New York on 28th December 1910 with the great Geraldine Farrar as the Goose Girl. Despite lukewarm reviews from a band of conservative critics the piece was a huge hit with the public undiminished by the fact that the world première of Puccini's La fanciulla del West had taken place in the same house just 18 days earlier! At the firtst night there were 14 curtain calls after the first act and, unusual for New York, an ovation of over 15 minutes was given at the end. The new work played to no less than thirty sold-out houses in its first season.
Königskinder appears, at first glance, to be an idyllic work full of romantic imagery aspiring to the heroic tradition with the story of a royal heir's love for a goose girl set against the prejudices of society. The work, however, soon deceives. The subject is revealed to be highly serious drawing heavily on Nietzsche with its concern for the principles of natural leadership and natural "royalty" in the face of bourgeois lowest-common-denominator condescension and intolerance. The message is one of alienation as a metaphor for the artist's separation from the rest of society – a theme that is treated with the utmost dramaturgical seriousness and supported by a complex tonal carpet of Wagnerian musical
development applied with great melodic beauty to produce an intensely moving work of musical theatre. The third act of Königskinder is astoundingly bleak and the young pair's "Liebestod" in the snows of winter, freezing to death with poison in their veins is shattering, moving and deeply pessimistic. The work's final moments reflect society's inability to tolerate anything outside the preconceived norm of the mundane and pedestrian.
The première of our new production of Humperdinck's Königskinder will take place on 29th October 2005 conducted by Fabio Luisi, directed by Andreas Homoki, designed by Wolfgang Gussmann and will feature Robert Gambill as the Prince,
Annette Dasch as the Goose Girl, the role of the Spielmann will be shared over
the run of performances by Roman Trekel and Martin Gantner and the Witch will be
sung by Dagmar Peckova. This will be the first time since 1938 that this fascinating work has received a new production in the theatre where it was conceived.
Sir Peter Jonas