Prinz von Homburg, Der (The Prince of Homburg)
  • Hans Werner Henze. Opera in three acts. 1958.
  • Libretto by Ingeborg Bachmann, after the play Prinz Friedrich von Homburg by Heinrich von Kleist.
  • First performance at the Staatsoper, Hamburg, on 22nd May 1960.
CHARACTERS

Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg

tenor

The Electress, his wife

contralto

Princess Natalie of Orange, her niece, Colonel-in-Chief of Dragoons

soprano

Field Marshal Dörfling

baritone

Friedrich Artur, Prince of Homburg, General of Cavalry

high baritone

Colonel Kottwitz, in the Prince’s regiment

bass

Count Hohenzollern, attached to the Elector

lyric tenor

Three Officers

tenor, baritone & bass

Three Ladies of the Court

soprano, mezzo-soprano & contralto

Sergeant

baritone

Two Orderlies

tenor & baritone

In the castle garden Prince Friedrich sits dreaming, twining a wreath of flowers. The Elector takes the wreath from him, hangs a silver medallion round his neck and gives him the hand of Princess Natalie. He is roused by Count Hohenzollern, still holding the glove of the Princess. In the castle Field Marshal Dörfling outlines the plan of battle, while the Prince daydreams, assenting but thinking that the Princess must be looking for her glove, which he now drops. On the battlefield the Prince still thinks of the Princess, not having taken in the orders he was given. He attacks, against orders, and after the battle there are rumours of the death of the Elector. These are false, however, and the Elector reappears, threatening to court-martial the man responsible for disobeying orders and commanding the premature cavalry charge. The Prince is imprisoned. In his cell he learns from Count Hohenzollern of the expected ratification by the Elector of the sentence of death. The Electress cannot intercede for him, but the Princess does and is told that the decision of the fairness of the verdict must rest with the Prince himself. The Prince must agree with the decision of the court, but the Princess decides to follow the dictates of her heart and use her Dragoons to set him free. The Elector realises that he has gained his point with the Prince and tears up the death warrant. In the final scene Friedrich is led into the garden, blindfold, as if for execution, but when the blindfold is removed he is rewarded by the Elector with a garland of victory and the hand of the Princess.

Suggested by Visconti, the story of Der Prinz von Homburg appealed also to Henze in its treatment of the conflict between individual freedom and the state. The score is in some respects less purely innovative and therefore demanding on audiences than some of Henze’s operatic work. The composer makes use of traditional forms and a large chamber orchestra, with contrasting instrumentation for each scene.