Wednesday, October 03, 2012


KÖNIGSKINDER        New Production Premiere
Oper Frankfurt 
30 September 2012
© Sam H. Shirakawa 

Musikalische Leitung / Sebastian Weigle
Regie / David Bösch
Bühnenbild / Patrick Bannwart
Kostüme / Meentje Nielsen
Licht / Frank Keller
Dramaturgie / Zsolt Horpácsy
Chor / Matthias Köhler
Kinderchor / Michael Clark

Der Königssohn / Daniel Behle
Die Gänsemagd / Amanda Majeski
Der Spielmann / Nikolay Borchev
Die Hexe / Julia Juon
Der Holzhacker / Magnús Baldvinsson
Der Besenbinder / Martin Mitterrutzner
Sein Töchterchen / Chiara Bäuml
Der Ratsälteste / Franz Mayer
Der Wirt / Dietrich Volle
Die Wirtstochter / Nina Tarandek
Der Schneider / Beau Gibson
Die Stallmagd / Katharina Magiera
1. Torwächter / Thomas Charrois
2. Torwächter / Garegin Hovsepian
Eine Frau / Claudia Grunwald

Chor der Oper Frankfurt
Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester

Hexed relationship: Daniel Behle, Amanda Majeski

Among depressing operas,  Engelbert Humperdinck’s rarely produced Königskinder (King’s Children) is a roaring wrist-slasher.  Performances should be banned on rainy days.  The work is all the more distressing because it is based on a fairy tale presumably aimed at children. While youngsters should by all means become inured to stories that end unhappily, I think adults should exercise special caution before exposing kids to this disturbing work.  Hänsel und Gretel it is not. 

These thoughts occurred to me as I noticed some very young children at the premiere of Oper Frankfurt’s new production this past weekend.  What do they make of such an unhappy tale? 
Julia Juon
Königskinder starts off inoccuously enough.  A prince falls in love with a farm girl, who has been hexed by a witch with a knack for baking poison bread.  The prince liberates the girl, but the witch prevents him from taking her into the “real” world.  They are eventually reunited in the prince’s kingdom, and here the narrative takes an ugly turn.  The star-crossed pair are met with scorn by the swinish populace, who expel them from their midst.  A minstrel of pure heart recognizes their true worth, but his clarity of vision proves ineffectual.  Faced with starvation, the misfortunate couple mutually end their suffering in a protracted Liebestod

What a bedtime story!
Nikolay Borchev
Königskinder received its world-premiere in 1910 at the Metropolitan Opera with a stellar cast that included Hermann Jadlowker, Geraldine Ferrar and Louise Homer.  Its success prompted numerous productions throughout the world, but it fell into obscurity after World War II.  In the past decade, Königskinder has begun to creep back into opera house repertories in Europe.  Deservedly perhaps.

David Bösch’s children's drawing book production for Frankfurt eliminates most of the difficulties in staging the work, by placing the action on a bare, steeply raked stage, with Patrick Bannwart’s cardboard cut-outs functioning unobtrusively as sets, props and geese.

If the presence of several opera world moguls seated among the money magnates at the premiere is any indication, the role of the Prince may signify a breakthrough for tenor Daniel Behle.  His voice has palpably bloomed from a Tamino-type sprout into an attractive middle-weight tenor, clearly capable of tackling Zemlinsky and early Wagner.  In its current estate, the voice sports a bright top reminiscent of the young Rene Kollo that crowns the sturdily butressed registers below it.  Genetics may be playing a role in Behle’s bodacious development: His mother is the well-known (and underrated) dramatic soprano Renate Behle

American Amanda Majeski as the farm girl commands a voice of surpassing beauty that can summon power without sounding pressured.  Its fullsome timbre reflects little of the girlish innocence you might reasonably expect from the role, but it reveals tragic yearnings in the score's final pages that surprise and disquiet.
Money gazing: European Central Bank across from Oper Frankfurt  
At first, Julia Juon struck me as a standard issue Mommy Dearest mezzo, but her Witch ultimately purveyed an agreeable detestability that I found fun to watch and interesting to hear.  Nikolay Borchev has appealing stage presence and a pleasant, well-schooled voice, but his Minstrel needs to “come out” and fully articulate the burden his character's voice must bear.  There were no weak links among the rest of the large cast. 

Sebastian Weigle paid close attention to having his redoubtable orchestra articulate Humperdinck’s numerous allusions to Wagner, most especially a fistful of quotes from Meistersinger.  He also proved efficient in steering the augmented chorus under the direction of Matthias Köhler, which includes a large section of children led by Michael Clark.  But I found myself wanting a tad more intensity from Weigle in drawing out some of the opera's arching melodies.

Königskinder comes along rarely, and It is well worth hearing in Oper Frankfurt’s new incarnation.

But leave the kids at home. 

Production Photos: Wolfgang Runkel
Oper Frankfurt Photo, Grafix & Post-Production: Sam H. Shirakawa

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At 12/22/2012 10:45 PM, Anonymous Danielle said...

Nice post which The work is all the more distressing because it is based on a fairy tale presumably aimed at children. While youngsters should by all means become inured to stories that end unhappily, I think adults should exercise special caution before exposing kids to this disturbing work. Thanks a lot for posting.


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