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The Many Hats of Heinrich
~ Interview with Steven Humes
Traditional vs modern. Politician vs King. Audiences alway want a fresh take on the 148 yr old character. Based on the 1688 King Henry the Fowler who united Germania through peace treaties and strong armies against the Hungarians, Heinrich has often been played as a traditional king. American bass Steven Humes talks about his first experience with the role:
"In Beijing the audience hadn't ever experienced big Wagner stories before and certainly didn't have the experience of the Europeans when it comes to opera. They expected a benevolent, realistic 'King' with the sword, shield and a crown. Here he was sympathetic, kind and had a nobility to him. Our production by Giancarlo del Monaco brought alive that Game-of-Thrones-style-King to great success."
Heinrich as King. NCPA Beijing 2012 - with Petra-Maria Schnitzer.
Photo, NCPA Beijing. Production, Giancarlo del Monaco. Costumes, Jesus Ruiz.
In the 2015-16 season in Copenhagen, however, the King turned half way into a politician, which isn't often done. "It was easy to turn the politician switch on but the question remains, did it work? Based on the calculating nature of Henry the Fowler, I feel it did. He had to politically convince German Duke after Duke to join him to strong arm the Hungarians from attacking. His politician hat was a huge part of who he is, so in that sense the audience really believed who we created. Heinrich had little patience for Telaramund's problems and just wanted to power forward. Finding an expert hero in Lohengrin, he expected him to lead the armies to victory."
The costume was a mix of business suit and armor and the character was a mix of manipulative politician and calculating warlord.
Heinrich as half King, half politician. Royal Danish Theater 2016
Photo, Ran Arthur Braun. Production, Nicola Raab. Costumes, Julia Müer
In St. Gallen in the 16-17 season, Heinrich wore strictly the politician hat to praise of the critics. The breast plate and shield banging were replaced with suit and bowler hat modeled after Walter Rathenau, the famous politician of the Warsaw 30's. Peter Hagmann: "Heinrich der Fowler, the vulnerable King of Germany, who came to Brabant to call for soldiers, is here (represented by) a mid-1900 citizen in a somewhat coarse three-piece suit. His crown is replaced by a simple black mens hat. The people here are represented by the class of royalists who fear nothing so much as the change (he brings)."
Nov. 2, 2016 - opera review.
Steven's take on the politician shows that even without the crown, Heinrich can be effective. "Heinrich carried a pen and not a sword. In our setting he was devastated by the realization that the political cycle would continue and war would return. Lohengrin was salvation and in the end, without him, Heinrich was cursed again with facing the endless battles that plague society as a whole."
Heinrich as 100% politician. St. Gallen Theater, 2016 - with Elisabeth Teige and Elena Pankratova.
Stage photo, Iko Freese. Production, Vincent Boussard. Costumes, Christian LaCroix.
Staunch politician, old fashioned king or quivering human in front of giant rats. However you like your Heinrich these days, Steven is sure to deliver.