Prince Kaspar (2002)


  • 90
  • 5 Singers, Actor, Cl./B.Cl.; Tbn.; 1 Perc.; Vn.; Va.; Cb.; Pf.

Score Excerpts

Program Notes

Prince Kaspar, a chamber opera in thirteen scenes, is based on a libretto by Per Brask.

(2001 – 2005)

Librettist’s Foreward:

Though the historical incidents upon which this libretto is based occurred in the late 1820s – early 1830s, around Nuremberg, it is by no means intended to be a historical drama.

The story of Kaspar Hauser “merely” provides the peg on which I hang certain observations about how we idealize our beliefs and ourselves when we encounter innocence. (Just as, in reverse, we too often reject our own capacity for evil when we encounter it). When we encounter innocence we tend to see our own scientific or moral or ethical values validated. (Innocence easily becomes the proof as well as the disproof of our particular deity). Or, perhaps some of us feel that we’ve been unjustly denied intercourse with innocence and others that innocence somehow cannot be trusted and needs to be seen through, unmasked.

The presence of innocence can be troubling, a problem to be solved. Its naiveté must be reined in, subjugated to our view of reality; of what’s right, proper and good. That way innocence will better reflect our own ideals. In consequence, we break it whenever we see it. That which could have taught us to see better, to see each other and ourselves better, is left splintered.

Kaspar is a stand-in for innocence in this libretto, which is a fable rather than a drama. A drama requires that people change, that they are, at least, somewhat different at the end; that the process of the dramatic action has taken us to a place different from where we started. Prince Kaspar doesn’t do that. No one really changes and Kaspar is not a dramatic hero. A dramatic hero is usually someone who is faced with certain obstacles, which must be overcome in order to achieve a goal – and in the process of which we, and the protagonist, grow wiser, even in demise. Kaspar has no such goal, and though things happen to him and he responds, he isn’t any the wiser as a result because he was already wise, so to speak. (The other characters, on the other hand, could have become wiser). Perhaps, then, he is a dramatic anti-hero. In this treatment, Kaspar is, after all, merely a cipher, or better, a mirror in which most of the other characters wish to see the better parts of themselves reflected. A metaphorical mirror, which they therefore destroy, because he is not they and they fail to see him for what he is – himself.

Had they, instead, accepted him as himself, they might have been able to see their own capacity for wild innocence, non-subjugated innocence, and realized, and henceforth learned to live with the credo that, in good as in ill, “Homo sum, humani nihil alienum puto.” (Terence, “I am human and nothing human is foreign to me”).


Time and Place: Late 1820s – early 1830s, around Nuremberg

The work is presented as a series of vignettes, each exploring Kaspar from a slightly different perspective. Kaspar is a quasi-messianic figure, a metaphor for the uncorrupted spirit. Everyone in Kaspar’s life hopes to fill him with their own content.

Scene 1: Kaspar appears and is observed by Georg.

Scene 2: Maia watches Kaspar and imagines him to be her lost child.

Scene 3: Ludwig and Georg present their differing views of Kaspar; Kaspar is himself, oblivious to their ideas.

Scene 4: Anna and Kaspar speak. They are drawn to one another, each in their own way. Georg interrupts their interaction.

Scene 5: Kaspar’s first meeting with the Masked Man.

Scene 6: Ludwig and Anna discuss their differing views of love. Kaspar enters.

Scene 7: Georg and Kaspar speak. Georg is amazed at Kaspar’s ability to perfectly mimic Latin; Anna and Ludwig also witness Kaspar’s skill.

Scene 8: The Masked Man accosts and threatens Anna, attempting to frighten her into convincing Ludwig to stop his work with Kaspar.

Scene 9: Ludwig, alone, expounds his philosophy.

Scene 10: Georg muses while Anna naps. Kaspar makes a surprising appearance from underneath Anna’s skirt. Georg and Anna are appalled, and Georg lectures Kaspar about morality. Georg accuses Anna of corrupting Kaspar.

Scene 11: The Masked Man speaks to Kaspar, and then attacks him with a knife, stabbing him.

Scene 12: Anna attends Kaspar’s bedside.

Scene 13: Kaspar lies dead; the members of the cast reflect on their vision of Kaspar. It is clear that he had become, for each of them, a vehicle for their individual worldviews.

The world premier of Prince Kaspar was given by GroundSwell on May 6 and 7, 2005, at the Gas Station Theatre in Winnipeg. The participants were as follows:


Music: Michael Matthews

Libretto: Per Brask

Director: Mariam Bernstein

Conductor: Michelle Mourre

Set Design: Grant Guy

Lighting Design: Hugh Conacher

Cast (in order of appearance):

Kaspar, a foundling: Mireille Lebel, mezzo soprano

Georg, a teacher: David Klassen, baritone

Maia, a noblewoman, perhaps: Donnalynn Grills, soprano

Ludwig, a philosopher, Georg’s friend: Michael Martens, tenor

Anna, a young woman, Georg’s sister: Lara Ciekiewicz, soprano

The Masked Man: Steven Ratzlaff, actor


Clarinet/Bass Clarinet: Milan Milosevic

Trombone: Jeffrey Boch

Violin: Natalia Zielinski

Viola: Mikhail Pokhanovski

Contrabass: Stephen Hamilton

Percussion: Ben Reimer

Piano: Laura Loewen

Rehearsal Pianist, Vocal Coach: Laura Loewen


Stage Manager: Carloyn Kutchyera

Production Manager: Allan Sansom