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The Sunday Opera: Engelbert Humperdinck's "Koningskinder" ("The King's Children")

The characters involved in Humperdinck's opera "Koningskinder" include the Goose-Girl, the King's Son, the Witch, the Fiddler, The Broom-maker, and the Woodsman, and the end comes through the innocent gift of a loaf of deadly bread. Oh, we mustn't forget the geese!
The characters involved in Humperdinck's opera "Koningskinder" include the Goose-Girl, the King's Son, the Witch, the Fiddler, The Broom-maker, and the Woodsman, and the end comes through the innocent gift of a loaf of deadly bread. Oh, we mustn't forget the geese!

Engelbert Humperdinck is best known for his fairytale opera “Hansel and Gretel,” but on this week’s Sunday Opera (6/2 3:00 p.m.), we’re going to go to another of his fairytale works, “Konigskinder” or “The King’s Children.”

“Konigskinder” was originally going to be a play with incidental music by Humperdinck, but he was insistent that the author Else Bernstein-Porges (who wrote under the pseudonym of Ernst Rosmer) allow him to use her play as the libretto for an opera. She finally gave in, and the opera opened at the Metropolitan Opera on December 28, 1910, some 13 years after the play version opened. It was successful at the Met, running for 39 performances through 1914 with Geraldine Ferrar as the “Goose-Girl” in all 39. It never appeared at the Met again.

The story is not a happy one. The Goose-Girl (Dagmar Schellenberger) is under the control of a witch (Marilyn Schmiege) who forces the girl to work for her and do chores like bake a loaf of magic bread that will never go stale but will kill anyone who eats half of it.

The King’s Son (Thomas Moser) stumbles upon the Witch’s cottage and immediately falls in love with the Goose-Girl. He’s in disguise as a huntsman as he looks for adventure before taking on his royal duties. When the prince kisses the Goose-Girl, the wreath of flowers she has in her hair blows away, so he gives her his crown and begs her to go away with him. When she says she can’t because of the witch’s spell, he doesn’t understand, gets upset, and leaves without her.

What follows is a series of mishaps brought about by meddling by a broom-maker (Heinrich Weber) and a Woodcutter (Andreas Kohn), and even the kindly Fiddler (Dietrich Henschel) can’t intervene to save the King’s Son and the Goose-Girl in the end.

The cast is joined by the Munich Boys Choir and Bavarian Radio Chorus as well as the Munich Radio Orchestra, and the conductor is Fabio Luisi.

We’re continuing with music by Humperdinck after the opera beginning with his Piano Quintet in G major, the second or adagio movement being a tribute to the memory of Humperdinck’s sister Ernestine who passed away at the age of 17. Our final work is Humperdinck’s setting of three poems by Heinrich Heine titled “The Pilgrimage to Kevelaer” which tells the story of a mother who takes her dying son to the shrine of the virgin in Kevelaer to pray for a miracle that does not come.

Although the stories may be unhappy, you’re sure to find Humperdinck’s music incredibly moving, so we hope you’ll join us this Sunday afternoon.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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