Prince Kaspar


  • 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

Ernst Toller: Requiem for an Idea


  • 25-30
  • Actor, Solo Cello

Score Excerpts

Program Notes

This work is a theatrical/musical reflection on the life and death of writer Ernst Toller. It should ideally be presented in a theatrical setting, with staging and lighting design. In the first production, the cellist sat slightly downstage centre, illuminated from directly overhead by a single light which was suspended by a long, black cord. The atmosphere was that of an interrogation. During the piece the actor, dressed in black, moved and spoke from areas in the vicinity of the cellist — on both sides, behind and in front. The actor was always lit peripherally, never clearly seen. Other stagings are of course possible.

Ernst Toller was born on 1st December 1893 – into a Jewish family in Samotschin in what at that time was the Prussian province of Posen. A typical child of his age, he joined the First World War as a belligerent patriot and returned from the trenches a pacifist. In the Bavarian Revolution, the 25-year-old was a member of the ‘braintrust’ of Kurt Eisner, who he had met in Berlin in 1917. In the course of the complex events in Bavaria, he was drawn into the phalanx of the revolutionaries.

Following the failure of the Räterepublik (a form of republic governed by commissars that existed in Bavaria in 1919), he was sentenced to five years imprisonment, which he spent in the prisons of Stadelheim, Eichstätt, Neuburg on the Danube and above all in Niederschönenfeld. It was here that he wrote his most significant works and gained his reputation as a dramatist. His plays were translated into 27 different languages and performed on the most important stages in the world.

After his release from prison, Toller invested all his energy into his humanitarian and socialist ideals. The political questions with which he concerned himself until his death are disturbingly topical today: the problem of the pacifism, which for him arose from the fact that under certain circumstances violence can be as inevitable as it is morally unacceptable; the protection of human rights, the rise of the radical right.

As early as the end of the twenties, Toller was already prophesying that Hitler would come to power, never to relinquish it. His comment in London on Hitler’s Olympic statement in 1936: “The dictator who praises the peace today, does so to prepare the war of tomorrow.”

In exile from 1933 onwards, Ernst Toller tried to reverse the splintering of political forces. In the USA he became the most-listened-to and celebrated representative of a different Germany. He used his popularity to serve gigantic aid projects for the suffering civilian population in Spain. Inevitably, Toller experienced the defeat of the Spanish Republic as one more betrayed revolution. He warned that for Hitler, the civil war in Spain was a dress rehearsal for a European war. His appeals for the western democracies to intervene went unheard. The recognition of Franco’s fascist dictatorship by the western powers shook Toller to be core because he himself was never willing to exclude ethical considerations from the political actions. The lack of conscience in politics drove Toller to despair. Everything that he had fought for in his literary and political life was lost.

On 19th May 1939, three days after Franco’s victory parade in Madrid, Ernst Toller took his own life in New York. Wolfgang Frühwald expressed the opinion that this ultimate demonstration of liberty illustrated – to a repressed world – to what act its freedom of action had meanwhile been reduced.

Writer Per Brask offers the following notes:

“It has not been my intention to give an account of the life and times of Ernst Toller — though that certainly would be an interesting project — nor to interrogate, as they say, his plays. Instead, I have wanted to ruminate along with him, to mourn the death of an idea, the idea of individualist socialism, anarchist communitarianism. For him this idea died in 1939 and he chose to die with it. For some of us maybe the idea died — or metamorphosed — in the 1980s, 90s?

Most of the poem is based on material found in Ernst Toller Gesammelte Werke Band 1-5, herausgegeben von John M. Spalek und Wolfgang Frühwald; München: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1978. I must, however, warn you that I have been very free in my approach to translating Toller’s words, many of which I have purposefully mangled, twisted and turned to suit my own ends, in some cases well beyond recognition. Sentences have been removed from their contexts. Indeed, in some instances a phrase has been joined by a sub-clause from a very different work.. (Everything written within wide margins has been maltreated in one or more of these ways.) And all this to find — as an actor might put it — the Toller inside myself, to pay homage to Toller by means of appropriation — by using him as an archetype.”

The music for Ernst Toller — Requiem for an Idea was written with financial assistance from the Manitoba Arts Council, whose support is gratefully acknowledged. The world premier was given in Winnipeg at the Eckhardt Gramatté Theatre on May 1 and 2, 1999. Richard Fowler was Ernst Toller; the cellist was Paul Marleyn.

The Raft


  • Voices, Dancers, String Quartet



  • 70
  • Soprano, Five Actors, Flute/Piccolo/Alto Flute, Clarinet/Bass Clarinet, Violin, Bass, Percussion, Piano, Live Electronics, Tape

Score Excerpts

Program Notes

Madrugada was written between 1992 and 1995. It is based on texts by Patrick Friesen, and tells of the spiritual quest of an unnamed traveler, who over the course of the work has a series of symbolic encounters with wise yet enigmatic and challenging ciphers: a reader of cards, a rhyming savant, a mute healer, a barker of the carnival of life. Hovering over and moving through this world is an Old Woman, leader of the spirit/demons, a gatherer of bones, the animating spirit of human life.

Financial assistance for the creation and development of this work was generously provided by the Canada Council and the Manitoba Arts Council.

The world premier took place on April 26, 27 and 28, 1995 at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, Winnipeg. This production was developed in collaboration with director Richard Fowler, Primus Theatre, the Thira Ensemble, and the GroundSwell new music series. The performers were:

Primus Theatre
Don Kitt
Tannis Kowalchuk
Stephen Lawson
Karin Randoja
Ker Wells

Therese Costes, Soprano
Laurel Ridd, Flutes
Lori Freedman, Clarinets
Paule Préfontaine, Violin
Steve Hamilton, Bass
Rob Gardner, Percussion
Mary Jo Carrabré, Keyboards
Michael Matthews, Electronics

The production was directed by Richard Fowler
Lighting Design by Don Kitt
Stage Manager Jane Wells



  • Soprano, Keyboard, Interactive Computer System, Visuals