Insurrection. Power. Nature.
The Secret Kingdom
(b. Vienna, August 23, 1900; d. Palm Springs, December 22, 1991)
The Secret Kingdom is an elaborate fairy-tale involving a kingdom in revolt, a monarch of Hamlet-like despondency who would like nothing better than to abdicate, and a queen who seeks to usurp her husband’s throne and establish a new kingdom with the leader of the rebellion.
The plot apotheosizes the simple life, submission to Nature, joy in little things, and the renunciation of ambition, fame, and glory. The composer wanted to say ‘no’ to modern civilization, which, he felt, consisted of dehumanized haste, degrading commercialization, and hopeless universal corruption.
In the end, all of the characters are thwarted, and a new kingdom, based on a love of nature is magically created in a remote forest.
In his long, diverse, and extraordinarily productive career, Ernst Krenek passed through many compositional styles and aesthetics, from the unbridled atonal Expressionism of his youth to an energetic espousal of indeterminacy in his old age, and was not averse to trying his hand at Tin Pan Alley songs.
The King – Baritone
The Queen – Coloratura soprano
The Fool – Baritone
The Rebel – Tenor
The Three Singing Ladies – Soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto
First Revolutionary – Tenor buffo
Second Revolutionary – Basso buffo
A Watchman – Tenor
Rebels, dancers, ladies of the Queen's chamber
Place: a fairy-tale land.
Scene 1, a room in the King’s palace:
While cries from the rebellious population are heard offstage, the Fool muses about the King, the people, and himself. The King hands him his crown; he wants to fight for his true kingdom in the streets. A captive rebel is brought in, a handsome man who captures the interest of the Queen, but his only concern is to obtain the crown and hand it to his followers. Now the Queen too demands the crown. With the help of the Three Ladies, some wine, and a deck of cards, she manages to trick the Fool into losing his motley and the crown. The Rebel, now freed from prison by the Queen, incites the people to storm the palace. The Fool, the Queen, and the King, dressed in fool’s motley, flee in panic.
Scene 2, a moonlit forest:
The Rebel wants to kill the Queen, who still has the crown. In her duress, she begins to disrobe. The Rebel weakens and flings himself upon her. But a higher power transforms her into a tree. Horrified, the Rebel rushes out of the enchanted forest. Two drifted into a pristine being. The King suddenly recognizes the beauty of his realm, the grandeur of nature, and a flower as a divine miracle. He enters his true kingdom and falls asleep. The Fool ends the play by delivering an epilogue to the audience.
Chamber Arrangement by Rainer Schottstädt