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The Prince of Homburg

Hans Werner Henze 1926—2012

Opera in 3 acts
Libretto by Ingeborg Bachmann after Heinrich von Kleist
first performed May 22 1960, Hamburg State Opera

Sung in German with German & English surtitles

Introductory talks (in German) begin in the Holzfoyer 30 mins before curtain up, and can be heard here shortly before opening night

There's a chamber music concert inspired by the work at 11am on October 20 in the Neue Kaiser.

The Prince of Homburg – a dreamer, nonconformist, hero?

Fehrbellin, 1675: Prince Friedrich dreams he’s an admired victor in battle but is laughed at by everybody. The command goes out before the real fight begins that no-one’s to attack until the electoral prince explicitly orders it. But Homburg high-handedly leads a charge that could lead to victory. He’s sentenced to death for insubordination. The Elector’s niece, who’s in love with him, begs her uncle to be merciful. He’s willing to pardon Homburg if the convicted man finds the judge’s decision unjust …

Hans Werner Henze and Ingeborg Bachmann met in 1952 at a Group 47 meeting and worked together for more than a decade. They came up with their own version of Kleist’s 1809/10 play, which alternates between melancholy, heroism and the analysis of it, which has been interpreted many times according to political circumstances. The opera’s focus moves from the military to the humane, from the historically correct to the timeless. The music – written for a large chamber orchestra – expands on the libretto in two juxtaposing spheres: a lyrical traditional world of dreams, which flickers strangely out of focus through the use of a mixture of sounds, and a tightly constructed, including twelve-tone, and serialized world of prevailing order, underlining the opera's probing questions about the position allotted to a dreamer in a strictly regulated society, the relationship between the individual and controlling system and the compatibility of emotions and laws.