7:30 pm, December 21, 2010
Gerald Lynch theater
John Jay College, 899 Tenth Avenue, NYC
by Englebert Humperdinck
libretto by Ernst Rosmer (pen name of Elsa Bernstein-Porges)
90-minute Abridged Version, NO Intermission
Fully-staged, with chamber ensemble and supertitles
What the critics said
Mike Silverman in his AP review wrote:
"The dell'Arte orchestra consisted of just seven instruments — including harmonium — but even with these drastically reduced forces, conductor Christopher Fecteau was able to create some magical sounds. And the stripped-down staging by Rod Gomez (no live geese, but very cute hand puppets instead) allowed the action to flow clearly through the three acts without requiring any delays for set changes. Much credit is due to dell'Arte for now bringing this neglected work back to New York."
Paul Pelkonen on his blog Superconductor wrote:
"dell'Arte Opera Ensemble made a good case for a full-scale revival…with one performance [of] an abridged version that still allowed the glories of this neglected work to shine through. Mr. Fecteau conducted his small forces as if they were a big Wagnerian band, drawing sweep and power from his little group. The innovative orchestration supported a strong, young cast. Soprano Katherine Wessinger was compelling as the Goose Girl, soaring through her vocal with a fine lyric instrument. Caleb Stokes was a strong presence as the prince….He pushed his bright-toned instrument hard in the first two acts amnd expressed passion, resignation and loss in the final scene. The Witch was acted by Joanna Rice. But the mezzo was vocally indisposed, and soprano Jennifer Moore sang the role from the pit. She did a great job in that difficult circumstance. Baritone Willam Amory was a compelling presence as the Minstrel, and his final eulogy brought the opera to a satisfying close."
"Beckmesserschmidt" on Opera-L raves:
"New York had tonight one of the very rare American performances of Humperdinck’s Königskinder from the remarkable (and previously unknown to me) dell’Arte Opera Ensemble…. They mounted in essence a fully staged production, with a cast of six principals, numerous smaller roles and a full children’s chorus, all with the German memorized and well in hand (and no prompter), for a single performance. A very inventive reorchestration was undertaken, with a handful of solo instruments and, brilliantly, a harmonium as well as a piano…. The hall was pretty much packed, completely attentive, no one left, and there was loud and deserved applause at the end. The whole damn thing was free, a great holiday gift from dell’Arte to New York City.
Rod Gomez’ stage direction was thoroughly professional and ‘warm’, without any gimmicks or artificial staginess, we had an honest to goodness Broadway stage designer (Megan George) who did wonderfully imaginative things on half a shoe-string, the costumes of Abigail Stewart were NOT taken off a rack, and though many of the cast were in a modification of street clothes, when, for example, it was important to convey the fatigue and cold of the Royal Children, she wrapped them in grey-blue winding which did the job brilliantly. There was not a single moment in the entire evening when anyone – cast, production team or musicians, talked down or condescended to the music or the audience, and to find any company in this city taking on such a risky work without resorting to slapstick or gimmickry is itself a rarity. Much of the success has to go to the musical director, Christopher Fecteau, who…seems to have made a specialty of these extremely winning reductions (does anyone realize how much work this is to do?) All of the soloists were well-prepared – there wasn’t a single slip that I was aware of and when an announcement was made that the witch/grandmother was sick, she mimed the role while an understudy sang from the pit. If the quality of the voices varied as you would expect it would, every performer has a sense of role, and how to convey the music within their abilities…
The company clearly deserves a great deal of support. This was high quality work that was courageous and unapologetic for the music (a rarity, no?) Dell’Arte made a far more successful bid for this work than we’ve seen recently with other exhumations at Lincoln Center, and I do hope this will encourage other to look to Königskinder, and this whole ‘lost’ period of German composition, for more discoveries."
On The Opera Insider Blog (click for the full review), Meche Kroop offers "...a luminous reading..." ..."a most well-spent evening."
A few words from opera 'insiders'
Cori Ellison (NYCO Dramaturg), on Facebook "commends Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble for a fine performance of Königskinder. Lovingly performed by a committed cast, sensitively led by Christopher Fecteau, well played by a fine chamber ensemble (in a tasteful reduction ingeniously filled out by harmonium), and neatly staged in a satisying less-is-more production, it made a strong case for Humperdinck's inexplicably neglected opera." (reprinted with permission)
William Hicks (conductor/coach, former Met staff), on Facebook wrote "...saw dell'Arte Opera's beautiful performance of Humperdinck's Köenigskinder; kudos especially to Maestro Christopher's highly musical, flowing conducting; soprano Jennifer Moore's singing and virtually sight reading from the orchestra pit the mezzo-soprano role of the Witch, who had lost her voice; and the outstanding playing of the orchestra. I also thought the geese hand puppets were charming." (reprinted with permission)
A brief but kind guest notice on Parterre Box glows "Camille was fortunate to see a lovingly recreated version this past week, done on a reduced scale, but with great respect and care by a wonderfully talented young maestro, Christopher Fecteau, the fearless leader of Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble, here in NYC."
This magical opera was given its storied premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House on December 28, 1910, only a few days after Puccini's La Fanciulla del West received its debut. Geraldine Farrar used kernels of corn to lure a dozen or so live geese from one side of the stage to the other, and a total of 39 performances took place over four seasons, thereafter disappearing from the Met repertoire, and only seen occasionally in Europe. The story, while it contains characters from traditional German fairy tales, is original (see synopsis below). The musical language is distinctly Humperdinck's, though the Wagnerian method of leitmotiv is used to enrich the entire work with vivid symbolism.
Though the critics wrote glowingly of the piece, it unfortunately never gained the popularity of the composer's earlier Hänsel und Gretel. Relatively recent productions have been seen at Sarasota Opera (1997) and more recently in Munich and Zurich.
Why now? (A Note from the Artistic Director)
We used the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Königskinder to celebrate the piece and its vision for us all. The major theme of the opera is the clarity of youthful perception, (and that of artists) and how as adults we often lose that clarity and suffer the consequences. In the crises that our world faces now, we must look to youthful eyes, to guide us to truths and answers that we might otherwise miss. Though the ending of the opera is tragic, it is also inherently hopeful and inspiring. In the spirit of the work, many entities, including cast members, have contributed their efforts. Through the generosity of the "Great Music for a Great City" series and John Jay College, tickets for the performance were completely free to the public. The Gerald Lynch Theater at John Jay College seats approximately 600.
A New holiday tradition?
dell'Arte seeks enthusiastic partners for future iterations of the project as well, including other opera companies, orchestras, choruses, dancers and puppeteers (for natural elements called for in the score), print and other media outlets, catering, adult supervision for children's chorus, costuming, etc. We hope to make Königskinder a cherished part of the New York cultural calendar, and not let it pass another 100 years from the repertoire!
Der Königssohn (the King's Son), Caleb Stokes
Die Gänsemagd (the Goose Girl), Katherine Wessinger
Der Spielman (the Fiddler), William Amory
Die Hexe (the Witch), Joanna Rice
Der Holzhacker (the Woodcutter), Jack White
Der Besenbinder (the Broombinder), Erik Bagger
Sein Töchterchen (his daughter), Christina Kompar
Der Ratsälteste (the town councilman), Jay Gould
Der Wirt (the innkeeper), Richard Bozic
Die Wirtstocher (the innkeeper's daughter), Sarah Bleasdale
Der Schneider (the Tailor), Jameson James
Die Stallmagd (the stable maid), Andrea Nwoke
Zwei Torwächter (two gate-keepers), Clayton Okaly, John Torres
Volk: Ratsherren und Ratsfrauen, Bürger und Bürgersfrauen, Handwerker, Spielleute, Mädchen, Bursche, Kinder. (Councilmen and their wives, villagers, tradesmen, musicians, young women, children)
Geese! (special thanks to Sarasota Opera for the appearance of their lovely feathered friends)
In front of the Witch's Hut in the forest. The Goose Girl, ward of the Witch (in reality a king's daughter under the spell of the Witch), reluctantly helps her bake magic bread. The Witch puts a spell over the bread that whoever eats half of it shall die, and then leaves to find ingredients for her spells.
Having fled the palace walls of his own neighboring kingdom, the King's Son (disguised as a commoner in order to go among the people and learn how best to rule) comes upon the young girl in the clearing, and they immediately fall in love. He accidentally breaks the wreath of flowers she has woven, but gives her a crown in return.
The Goose Girl tries to leave the forest with him, but the Witch's spell causes the wind to blow and the geese to crowd around her. Indignant at her fear, the King's son leaves her. She gives the crown to a great grey goose to hide, but when the Witch returns, the girl admits that she has seen a man. The Witch conjures a spell that her ward may never leave the woods.
A Fiddler, a Woodcutter and a Broombinder approach the hut, sent by the town council to ask the Witch how to find a new King for their city. She prophesizes that the first person to enter the city gates precisely at noon the next day (the day of the town festival) will be their new King. As the villagers are leaving, the Fiddler sees the Goose Girl at the window, and recognizes her as worthy of being royalty. The Fiddler tells the girl that only she may break the spell that binds her to the Witch. The grey goose brings her the crown, and as she prays to her dead parents, a star falls from the sky into a lily, releasing her. She runs off into the woods after the King's Son, and the Witch shakes her fist at the Fiddler for his meddling.
The King's son, having arrived at the inn in nearby Hellabrun, attracts the attention and affections of the innkeeper's daughter. Inhaling the fresh fragrance of the Goose Girl's wreath, he can only think of her and rejects the advances of the innkeeper's daughter. He tries to find honest work, but because of his shabby clothes, he can only secure a job as a swineherd.
The Woodcutter announces the Witch's prophecy to all, and the whole town assembles, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new King. Precisely at noon, the Goose Girl enters with her geese and the Fiddler, and is reunited with the King's Son. But only the children of Hellabrun and the Fiddler recognize them as people of royal birth, and the resentful adults chase them out of town.
Seeking his home, the King's Son and the Goose Girl lose their way in the forest during a snowstorm. (After the two were chased from town, the boorish villagers broke the Fiddler's leg and threw him in prison by for believing in the royal lineage of the two children. The same villagers burned the Witch and her hut for making them the laughingstock of her prophecy.) Now the Fiddler (still limping) along with the Woodcutter and Broombinder have set out into the same snowy forest with the children of Hellabrun, who desperately want the royal pair to return. Their parents have been so frustrated by the children's disagreeable behavior that they have permitted them to search for the pair whom they believe to be royalty. Somehow the youth of Hellabrun grasp that their town cannot thrive until the youthful energy of its rightful rulers is restored. Along the way, the Woodcutter and Broombinder decide to take shelter in a burned-out hut. While the others search, the King's Son, wandering through the same woods, knocks on the door and bargains for the one loaf of remaining bread with his broken crown. He takes the food back to the Goose Girl and they share a last meal under the same tree which had sheltered them on their first meeting. Soon afterwards, the children of Hellabrun, guided by a forest bird, find the noble pair buried under the snow and carry them back to the town in a regal procession.
What Can you do?
If you have talents to contribute to the project, this time around or in the future, we'd love to hear about them. While tickets for this wonderful production are free, the expenses of presenting it are tremendous, and so we welcome your financial contributions as well as donations of services and materials. Please visit the CONTRIBUTE page of our website to send a donation or to contact us with other offers of assistance.
The Royal Children (a fairy tale based on the opera by Humperdinck) by Anna Alice Chapin
New York Times preview article, dated December 25, 1910
Audio excerpts on YouTube:
Act II Finale
Act III Prelude
Act III "Meine grauen Täublein" & "Wohin bist du gegangen" (Spielman)