Humperdinck: Dornröschen

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Humperdinck
WORKS: Dornröschen
PERFORMER: Brigitte Fassbaender, Christina Landshamer, Kristiane Kaiser, Tobias Haaks; Bavarian Radio Chorus; Munich Radio Orchestra/Ulf Schirmer

Humperdinck had the misfortune to hit the jackpot with an early work, Hänsel und Gretel. He spent the rest of his life trying to be as successful, but in a somewhat different way, and never quite made it. Dornröschen – the German equivalent of Sleeping Beauty – has a lumbering text, and makes impossible scenic demands, so that it rarely, if ever, gets staged. With its tale of a girl being put to sleep for a century and then being revived and ‘redeemed’, it’s all too close to the earlier masterpiece.
The music is often reminiscent, too, proving that Humperdinck was a master of setting short songs, but unable to sustain a musical-dramatic thread. That is highlighted in this piece by his inclusion of a considerable quantity of spoken dialogue as well as some melodrama. Unhelpfully, the booklet includes the words of everything that is set to music, and their English translation, but omits the dialogue – an incomprehensible decision. 
The musical performance is reasonable but the singers are not outstanding. The only vivid presence is Brigitte Fassbaender as the witch Dämonia, whose part is a purely spoken one, done with immense sinister relish. There are some lovely orchestral interludes, and no lover of Hänsel will want to miss this set, but really it needed to be somewhat more inspired than this conscientious account. Michael Tanner