Don’t expect a rerun of Hänsel und Gretel, though this too is called a ‘fairy tale opera’. Here the fairy tale is the invention of the librettist Ernst Rosmer, the pseudonym of Else Bernstein-Porges. After the enormous success of his first opera, Humperdinck had a long period of creative block. When he finally wrote The King’s Children it was first as a melodrama, spoken with pitches for each word or syllable; then he turned it into a continuously accompanied quasi-Wagnerian affair, unlike Hänsel, which alternates ‘numbers’ with spoken dialogue.
This second opera is rich in melodic invention and orchestration but it does tend to be garrulous, several of its scenes going on for considerably longer than they need to. And it is unrelievedly gloomy, with the king’s children starving and freezing to death. The only semi-light sections are allotted to jovial and idiotically malignant townspeople – it is an intensely misanthropic work. Besides the King’s Son and the Goose Girl, the main role is that of the Fiddler. He is a highly Romantic conception, for whom Humperdinck found wonderfully inventive music.
This Frankfurt Opera version, recorded live in 2012, has a great deal to recommend it, though it does come not long after the recently reissued 2006 Accord version. That’s also live and stars tenor Jonas Kaufmann, then just beginning his meteoric superstellar career and with his voice in fabulous condition. But though none of the Frankfurt performers is a household name, they are obviously a team and Sebastian Weigle, steeped in Wagner, conducts superbly. But there is no English translation of the libretto in the recording booklet notes as there is in the other set, and that is, in so wordy an opera, the deciding factor.