Opera News 2/2008
Humperdinck: Königskinder, Zürich, 21 October 2007
ZURICH — Königskinder, Opernhaus Zürich, 10/21/07
Engelbert Humperdinck's Königskinder (The King's Children), which had its world premiere at the Met in 1910, has been meandering through the fringes of the repertory in the past few seasons: in 2005, it attracted a surprising amount of favorable attention in Naples and in a brilliantly intelligent production at the small opera-house of Cottbus, not far from Berlin. It was the surprise discovery at the Montpellier Festival that year and later closed the Bayerische Staatsoper season in Peter Jonas's honor as the finale of his Munich intendancy.

Zurich confirmed the positive notices that the opera had recently garnered when Königskinder materialized on October 21 as one of the 2007–08 season's new productions. Ingo Metzmacher headed the team as conductor, with Jens-Daniel Herzog as director and Mathis Neidhardt as designer, and with Isabel Rey and Jonas Kaufmann (also the star of the Montpellier performance released on CD) in the title roles — a combination of forces that left everyone wondering why Humperdinck's "Märchenoper in drei Aufzügen" has been so neglected in recent times after its promising start at the Met.

It must be admitted that Königskinder's story of a Goose-Girl (the victim of a Witch) who falls in love with the King's son (dressed as a beggar) is really hard to take today: the libretto is an uneasy mixture of naïveté and highly complex symbolism. The less one understands of its highfalutin' text, the better one can concentrate on the virtues of the music, which progresses from the "Wagnerian nursery" (Edward J. Dent's description) of Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel to the mystic realms of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande and Delius's A Village Romeo and Juliet. Ignoring the libretto's shortcomings is made rather difficult in Zurich, where the German text is projected as surtitles high above the stage, so that its banalities and pretentious wordings are hammered mercilessly into one's consciousness.

Metzmacher obviously enjoyed the rich tapestry of Humperdinck's scoring, without ever overtaxing the acoustical limits of Zurich's rather small (1,200-seat) auditorium. It says a lot about Metzmacher's commitment that the glittering treasures of the score were so well mined by the orchestra, the soloists and the splendidly trained chorus, prepared by Ernst Raffelsberger. Metzmacher kept Humperdinck's ravishing palette of sound colors translucent and liquid, and yet stated instantly — with the ferocious announcement of the horns — that there was to be no lack of energy or power in the climaxes of the score. One wished at times for a bit more bite in the rhythmic declamation, but it can be argued that the softness here was due as much to the composer's rather tame handling of the Witch's music as to any lack of boldness on Metzmacher's part.

The singers, all regular members of the company, obviously enjoyed their gratifying parts. Jonas Kaufmann was ideally cast as the King's Son, a handsome blueblood whose noble heritage transcends his shabby appearence. Kaufmann spun his tenor lines with eloquence, poise and beauty, enduing them with a silver sheen. Isabel Rey was his worthy match as the Goose Girl, her nobility legitimized through the purity and warmness of her heart. Her soprano poured out with directness and charm in cantilenas of graceful, purling legato. Jens-Daniel's production placed the pair in a modern greenhouse of plants, in which Liliana Nikiteanu (the Witch) ruled as a severe bossy attendant. Although this updating was not very convincing, Nikiteanu acted her part with great authority and spiced her utterances with ominous venom. At the November 10 performance, Oliver Widmer's Fiddler was replaced by the ubiquitous Richard Ganter from Munich, heading a supporting cast of highly individual colleagues, including Reinhard Mayr as the Woodcutter, Volker Vogel as the Broom-maker, Tomasz Slawinski as the Innkeeper and Martina Welschenbach as his daughter.

  www.jkaufmann.info back top