Notes and Editorial Reviews
I wouldn’t go so far as to describe Engelbert Humperdinck as a one-hit composer, but Hänsel und Gretel is certainly his best-known work. Many opera-lovers might be hard pressed to name any of Humperdinck’s other operas. In recent years, Königskinder has been enjoying a revival. Very popular when it premiered in 1910 at the Met, in the same season as the premiere of Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, Königskinder was performed internationally until the Second World War, after which it went into a state of performance remission.
It is a long opera. It does not come out to greet you with memorable tunes like Hänsel und Gretel. It requires some attention and dedication to appreciate its merits. For the most part,
it is musically reminiscent of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger; in lieu of airs and set pieces, it is sung declamation over a rich orchestral accompaniment. There are some sections of great beauty, other sections that are inventive and interesting, and some stretches of musical narrative that are much less engaging. Just as Pelléas et Mélisande doesn’t immediately appeal to the masses, Königskinder’s charms become more apparent with repeated hearings. I suspect it might be more readily appreciated when the visual element is added.
The plot is rather convoluted involving witches, spells, tricky questions that the good of heart know the answers to, royalty in disguise, etc. On the surface, it seems like an extension of Hänsel und Gretel—the bad witch lives in the dark woods and has a child (the Goose Girl) living with her under a spell, but the fairy-tale treatment is a thin veneer over a story that begins to take itself too seriously and strives for human drama. The opera is perhaps overly ambitious and too long to sustain dramatic interest in the story line. A somewhat anticlimactic scene follows the end of the action when the Prince and the Goose Girl perish from eating the Witch’s cursed bread. This Profil (Edition Günter Hänssler) recording regrettably does not include a libretto, which would be a considerable asset. The booklet, in German and English, provides a brief history of the work’s long gestation as it evolved, starting in 1894, as incidental music to a play. From 1895 to 1897, Humperdinck attempted to create a melodrama with notated speech tied to an orchestral accompaniment, but eventually, from 1908 to 1910, reworked it into a more traditional operatic arioso style. The booklet also contains a brief synopsis, but it is not tied to track numbers.
This is a very nice recording in good sound. The most familiar name in the cast is Thomas Moser, who I thought sounded a bit too mature to play the young prince. (The booklet tells us that Moser sang “the little role in Wagner’s Lohengrin.” I presume they meant title.) Marilyn Schmiege sings well, but her witch does not sound particularly witch-like, except for a few ominous low notes that add an unexpected spooky element. Dagmar Schellenberger has a lovely, sweet voice. She is very charming as the Goose Girl. Good voices and singing are also contributed by Dietrich Henschel, Andreas Kohn, and Heinrich Weber as the Fiddler, Woodcutter, and Broommaker respectively.
Only one other recording of Königskinder seems to be available at this time: a 1952 release on Gala that features among others, Hanna Ludwig, Peter Anders, Ilsa Imme-Sabisch, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Fritz Ollendorf. Judging from its age and the fact it is on two discs, I would say it is probably monaural and subject to cuts.
I would recommend this Profil recording primarily to the adventurous who like exploring operas that live on the musical side streets. It is an opera that deserves to be recorded, and fortunate are we that Fabio Luisi and company have given us such a good accounting of the score. However, keep in mind if you have never heard it, Königskinder is not Hänsel und Gretel, part II. It is a significantly different musical experience.
David L. Kirk, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Königskinder by Engelbert Humperdinck
Heinrich Weber (Tenor),
Marilyn Schmiege (Mezzo Soprano),
Dietrich Henschel (Baritone),
Dagmar Schellenberger (Soprano),
Thomas Moser (Tenor)
Bavarian Radio Chorus,
Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Munich Children's Chorus
Written: 1910; Germany
Date of Recording: 03/1996
Venue: Live Herkulessaal, Munich, Germany
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