Der Prinz von Homburg is a 1960 opera by Hans Werner Henze setting a libretto by Ingeborg Bachmann based on an 1811 play by Heinrich von Kleist. The essential context is Henze and Bachmann’s rejection of German militarism and authoritarianism that they believed was being built back into the new German Federal Republic. It has been enjoying something of a revival in the last few years, perhaps as a result of the resurgence of the Fascist/nationalist right, with multiple productions in Germany including one in Stuttgart in 2019 which was recorded for video.
I’m not a huge bel canto fan so it’s probably no surprise that I had, previous to this DVD, only seen Bellini’s La sonnambula once. That was in Mary Zimmermann’s messy production at the Met which had left me with the impression that it was a rather feeble comedy with formulaic music and not much improved by Zimmermann’s attempts to sex it up. I did wonder if it might be improved by the full on Regie treatment and so I was quite happy to have a chance to see the DVD of Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito’s 2013 Stuttgart production, especially as it had played to significant critical acclaim and won a bunch of awards. I was surprised and impressed. Far from being a cavalcade of extraneous elements (the usual charge levelled at Regie), this production probed the libretto and the source materials in a highly intelligent way to produce something really rather moving. The music is still what it is; tuneful, well crafted but hardly deep, but there you go.