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Heise's Drot og Marsk

Royal Danish Opera, Copenhagen, March 23 - May 5, 2019

 Photographs by Miklos Szabo, courtesy of the Royal Danish Opera



Peter Heise's Drot og Marsk (King and Marshall) of 1878 is Denmark's answer to the Sweden of Auber's Gustavus III or Verdi's The Masked Ball.  As with them it concerns the historical assassination of a king, in this case King Erik V in 1286. Like them, there is no clear idea as to exactly who was involved or why it was done and like them it decides that the answer must be the King wanting his wicked way with someone else's wife.

The difference here is that the attraction is not mutual. She is Ingeborg, wife of the Marshall,  who has been left in the King's protection while the Marshall goes off to fight Sweden on behalf of the crown. When the Marshall returns and finds out what happens, he confronts the King and eventually kills him in concert with other nobles at Finderup Barn.
      The conspirators ride from Finderup after the murder of
                 Eric V - Otto Bache, 1882


The libretto by Christian Richardt is based on a play by Carsten Hauch, one of several 19th century plays on this theme, which in turn drew on ballads and stories from the 16th century. The libretto added a character, Aase, a local girl living in the country whom first Rane (the King's companion) and then the King look to seduce. The King takes her to his palace but loses interest once the Marshall turns up to leave his wife under the protection of the King while he is away at war. The seduction, the King claims, was willingly entered into on her part and so aggravates the situation. The Marshall is beside himself, renounces his duty to the King and vows to kill him. Other nobles join with the Marshall and Rane promises to trick the King into staying the night at Finderup Barn. When they are out hunting the King, who is getting increasingly anxious, and Rane get lost and end up at Aase's house where again the King attempts to seduce her. He is hurried away by Rane who says that Finderup Barn is a safe hiding place. He forgets his sword and Aase goes after him with it but arrives too late after the conspirators have killed him. The opera ends with the people singing of the trouble to come.   


Overall Richardt's addition of Aase weakens the opera.  It makes for a dull opening, repeats the seduction idea rather too many times and spins out the ending by including a visit to her cottage. The great list of wrongs that the conspirators recite for wanting to kill the King is not prepared in any way in the previous actions or dialogue, so comes over rather weakly. Heise's musical response was somewhat conventional for the opening scenes and the seduction of Ingeborg was perfunctory both dramatically and musically, particularly when measured against a work like Gounod's Faust. However, Heise was on much stronger ground with the confrontation between King and Marshall, the swearing in of the conspirators (shades of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots) and some of the scenes with the Marshall and his wife. The rather drawn out climax perhaps prevented him from a more memorable ending. 


It was difficult to pin down Heise's style. He was seen as a conservative but his opera leans more towards Wagner with its through composed approach, use of the brass and lack of reliance on closed numbers (a point of criticism at the original performances).  However, at no point were there obvious hints, suggestions or adaptations of other works. Heise died a year after the opera's composition and it would have been interesting to see if he could have built on these strong foundations.


The performances were excellent both dramatically and vocally but  the Ingeborg of Sine Bundgaard deserves particular mention. The chorus and orchestra under Michael Schønwandt gave strong support. The directors Amy Lane and Kasper Holten provided clear direction for the most part. Luckily their additional rather strained idea that the whole business was a put up job to provide a pretext to overthrow the King was easily ignored. The design which shifted the country setting of some scenes to inside the palace but with pictures of the countryside on the walls was not helpful or effective. The dour concrete blocks that backed the Marshall's scenes worked rather better and the rapid rotation and movement of the scenic blocks, the effect magnified by huge mirrors in the wings, showed a situation moving rapidly out of control.


All in all though it was a very engaging and entertaining evening and interesting to see a different country's response to what was happening in the mainstream of 19th century European opera.  The opera house was opened in 2004 and is in a traditional horseshoe shape with a very high ceiling. The seats are comfortable, reasonably priced, and from where we were in the stalls there is a good acoustic. The stalls rake is none too steep but we had no problem with sight lines. There are some photographs of the house here.


The opera has probably not been seen outside Denmark and does not get that many outings there now. More information on it can be found at
heise_drot_og_marsk_1.pdf . There is a section in English at page xxi.


Russell Burdekin saw the performance on April 24, 2019.


The Team

Marsk Stig - Johan Reuter

Kong Erik - Peter Lodahl

Rane Johnsen - Gert Henning-Jensen

Fru Ingeborg - Sine Bundgaard

Aase - Sofie Elkjær Jensen

Grev Jakob af Halland - Morten Staugaard

Jens Grand - Simon Duus

Herold - Teit Kanstrup


Conductor - Michael Schønwandt

Directors -  Amy Lane and Kasper Holten

Set Designer - Philipp Fürhofer

Costume Design - Anja Vang Kragh

Choreographer - Jo Meredith

Lighting Design - Jesper Kongshaug

Chorus Master: Jakob Lorentzen





Photo - Miklos Szabo

 The King with Aase







Photo - Miklos Szabo

The King brings Aase to the palace







Photo - Miklos Szabo

The Marshall departing for Sweden leaves his wife to the King's protection








Photo - Miklos Szabo

Ingeborg and the King get better acquainted







Photo - Miklos Szabo

Ingeborg and the King get even better acquainted







Photo - Miklos Szabo

The Marshall confronts the King







Photo - Miklos Szabo

Ingeborg and the Marshall







Photo - Miklos Szabo

The Marshall and Conspirators swear







Photo - Miklos Szabo

The King and Rane Johnsen







Photo - Miklos Szabo

The King is killed and the chorus sing of the chaos to come.
The backdrop is based on Bache's painting shown at the top of the page.






Copenhagen Opera House


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