Humperdinck: Königskinder

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Humperdinck
WORKS: Königskinder
PERFORMER: Thomas Moser, Dietrich Henschel, Dagmar Schellenberger, Marilyn Schmiege; Bavarian Radio Chorus, Munich Boys Choir, Munich Radio Orchestra/Fabio Luisi
Königskinder’s lushly Wagnerian web of melody and texture lacks the immediately memorable set-piece numbers of Hansel and Gretel, but is arguably more subtle in its portrayal of its fairy-tale characters. Premiered at the Met in 1910 it is now staged only rarely (Wexford, 1986; London, ENO, 1992). Both Heinz Wallberg’s 1977 recording and Fabio Luisi’s new one originate in Bavarian Radio performances of very high quality. But there has been a marked shift in interpretation. Wallberg, with Hanna Schwarz and Hermann Prey outstanding as the Witch and the mysterious Fiddler, was content to spin the dark fairy-tale opera at face value – with marginally greater reward. His Goosegirl (Helen Donath) and Prince (Adolf Dallapozza) had lighter, but more idiomatic voices than Luisi’s Dagmar Schellenberger and Thomas Moser, who find it hard to forget that the opera isn’t by Wagner, which is not quite fair to Humperdinck’s own distinctive muse. Luisi, particularly in Act III, stretches the agonies and ecstasy of the Royal Children’s love-death to the point where Humperdinck’s spell threatens to dissolve. But there’s no question that Luisi’s disc will win new friends for a very lovely if disquieting score. Calig supplies only a German libretto, and one shorn of scene-setting rubrics at that. Patrick Carnegy