Tenor Daniel Behle returns to the Netherlands to sing in Humperdinck’s Königskinder. As an experienced performer of the role of the king’s son, a composer and a father, he’s the perfect person to explain why this production is a must-see.
Author: Hein van Eekert
The fact that highly celebrated singer Daniel Behle is also a composer seems just a side note. The tenor, who will play the lead in Humperdinck’s Königskinder, has seen great success as a singer in theatres and concert halls for some years now. He’s also the son of a singer: his mother Renate Behle can look back on a 54-year-long career. She sang alto, was a member of an opera chorus when her son was a young boy, worked as a mezzo-soprano for some time and gradually moved towards becoming a dramatic soprano by singing Agathe in Weber’s Der Freischütz. Before she retired, she was a high-dramatic soprano, singing such roles as Brunhild and Isolde. But it wasn’t until later that she passed on her passion for singing to the younger generation: “Unfortunately, I never sang as a child and I wasn’t really interested in my mother’s career. When my father died in 1996, I started taking lessons with my mother as a kind of family therapy. I was a composer and I wrote prose, so I started singing relatively late. But I really enjoyed it and found success rather quickly. That’s when I decided to put my other work on the back burner and try to make a go of my singing career.”
Daniel Behle is known for his Mozart roles: he sang Tamino on the recording of Die Zauberflöte conducted by René Jacobs. But he also performed many other roles: Händel – he last performed in Amsterdam in Alcina in 2014 – and other baroque composers as well as Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner play an important role in his career. He recently made his debut headlining in Lohengrin, for instance.
Because of the pandemic, Daniel took a little break from his singing career and returned to composing: on his website, you can find upbeat pop songs for children in addition to serious compositions. One of his projects was an adaptation of Schubert’s Winterreise. But, for now, his magnum opus seems to be the ‘beer operetta’ Hopfen und Malz (hops and malt), which is about a beer-brewing competition between two villages. Loosely based on Der Freischütz, the beer is brewed in a single night in the Wolf’s Glen. Alain Claude Sulzer wrote the libretto. “I could go on all day about how much I love operetta. There have hardly been any new operettas since 1944 when Franz Léhar ended his career in Vienna with Giuditta. This was obviously to do with the rise of National Socialism. Operetta was always satirical or political in nature, or it was about people’s everyday lives. That’s why the librettos don’t always resonate with us anymore. But the music is fabulous. I just thought that there was so much versatility left in the genre.” Drawing on his great love for Viennese and Berlin operettas and Franz Léhar’s instrumental artistry, in particular, Daniel went to work. Hopfen und Malz will premiere in Bucholz in 2023; Daniel has already started composing his second operetta.
‘I started singing as a kind of family therapy.’
A COMPOSER’S EAR
The composer in him listens with a refined ear to the music of the operas he performs in. His next role after this interview is that of Henry in Richard Strauss’s Die schweigsame Frau: “I love Richard Strauss. Die Schweigsame Frau is one of my favourites and it has definitely inspired me.” Daniel does have a few reservations, though: “Richard Strauss has a tendency to get overly intellectual and the pacing is a little slow at times. It’s crucial to hold the audience’s attention.”
The tenor is full of praise for Engelbert Humperdinck, the composer of Königskinder. He sang the role of the king’s son in Frankfurt as early as 2012 and then went on to do so in Dresden: “The opera may not be all that well-known because it’s a fairy tale that ends on a bad note, but the instrumentation of the music is absolutely beautiful. Humperdinck was Richard Wagner’s apprentice, but in the instrumentation part, he basically surpassed his tutor. The orchestral colouring he used in Königskinder is perhaps the most wonderful I’ve ever heard.”
DIFFERENT FROM WAGNER
For singers, this music is different from Wagner’s: “To me, it feels as if Wagner wants to overload the audience with information. He repeats everything he wants to say three times. And when the sun shines, it’s a sign of the gods, something very important. This is reflected in the singing: everything is assigned great significance.” Wagner wants to stay in control of his music: “As a composer, I know how hard it is to hand over control to the conductor and the musicians. Wagner never got beyond that feeling: he even went as far as building his own theatre.”
Humperdinck is different: “He composed fairy tales and you see his humour shining through every now and then. When we sing that the bread is hard, the music sounds like the gods are rising from the heavens. For us as singers, it’s great to know that you won’t get punished if you happen to miss a note. Emotionally, the music is lighter: sometimes, the orchestral sound is rich and you have to try to break through. The king’s son is a hero and he has his heroic moments: you need a voice that can persevere and is self-assured, but at the same time you have to bring a certain youthful freshness to the role.” Referring to his similarly princely role in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Daniel says: “The king’s son is a Tamino-plus.”
- Königskinder will run from 6 to 22 October 2022 at Dutch National Opera.