Marschner’s Hans Heiling in Regensburg

Heinrich Marschner’s opera Hans Heiling, like the better known Der Freschütz from the same period, has the typical German romantic obsession with the other world and its impact on human nature. In this case, Heiling, the prince of the earth spirits, decides to renounce for love a life which is concerned only to acquire wealth and power. The goal proves impossible to attain and he has to return to the subterranean kingdom. Of course, in terms of both drama and music, there is a nice contrast between the greedy spirits and the simple emotions of labouring humanity. However in the recent Regensburg revival the young director Florian Lutz considered this inadequate and so turned the piece into a Marxist parable on capitalism versus community. By itself, the interpretation was not disastrous, but – as though the theme was not sufficiently evident in the original text – interposed a narrator lecturing on the ideological content. And that was not all; there was also audience participation. During the Prelude, those with places in the stalls and gallery  (including myself) had to assemble on the stage. Surrounded by the earth spirits, we experienced at close quarters  Heiling’s predicament; and then were told that we had to choose between becoming part of the world of labour, staying on the stage for the rest of the performance, or else resorting to capitalism and observing it from the auditorium (which of course I opted for). All of this was simply too much for poor Marschner’s work to bear. Lovely score though it is, it got lost among the many distractions. Individual performers were also difficult to judge, but Adam Kruzel as Heiling and Steven Ebel as his rival Konrad stood out for their vibrant, extrovert singing.