Dansk Dansk    US Dollars (change)
Dacapo Home
Dacapo - The National Music Anthology of Denmark

Format:  DVD

Catalogue Number:  2.110408

Barcode:  747313540853

Release month:  Apr 2010

Period:  21st Century


Bo Holten: The Visit of the Royal Physician

05 December 2011  American Record Guide

The voice of the stage manager and backstage hustle and bustle accompany closeups of the principal characters opens the performance. Then the camera follows the conductor into the pit, and it's on with the show. For 164 minutes my eyes and ears were practically glued to the screen! I am sorry to say that my knowledge of Danish history is very much limited to Heldentenor Lauritz Melchior. The opera has a cast of 25, plus a parcel of dancers and chorus; and the principal roles are of historical people. The booklet has lots of good notes, clearly identifies the characters, and lucidly lays out the historical background and plot. It is mid-to-late 18th Century Copenhagen. Two lines from the libretto set up the situation: "Who would have anticipated that a German physician would pay a visit to the vacuum of power?" "If you didn't own a king that is incompetent then you could create one." And that is just what Johann Friedrich Struensee (1737-72) did.

Danish King Frederik V is so ravaged by alcohol and debauchery that he no longer can rule his kingdom without the help of loyal, able servants. On his deathbed Frederik blesses his heir Christian VII (1749-1808). Christian was one of Denmark's most controversial kings. Because of his mental illness he never exercised real royal power. Into this political vacuum comes Struensee, a German physician to replace the king's tutor Reverdil. Struensee works his way into the highest echelons of Danish royalty, becoming the lover of Queen Caroline Mathilde and the de facto ruler of Denmark (autumn 1770-January 1772). When he tried to reform Danish society he threatened powerful interests. He was deposed by a coup and executed in April 1772. Christian was only 17 when he married the 15-year-old Caroline Mathilde. The two teenagers were petrified at the sight of each other, and when Christian is too fearful of consummating the marriage the maitre de plaisir calls in Bootee-Catherine to introduce Christian to the world of eroticism. (Cue the bouncing boobies and the almost naked tenor!) With Bootee-Catherine occupying the king's fantasy universe, Struensee seduces the queen and makes his bid for power. Holten's music is quite conservative, neoromantic, with just a bit of dissonance thrown in for variety.

The performance and production are beyond reproach. Camera work keeps the singers in almost constant close-ups, and their acting is compelling. So is their singing, especially Henning-Jensen as the androgynous King Christian. Reuter is a strong singer and actor. For acting, though, Hansen takes first prize as the debauched King Frederik. Mai-Mai is a coloratura soprano blasting out a fierce low register- sexy, sultry, and quite seductive. There is little to see on the dark-paneled stage (designed by Peter Holm-also the costumes); projections identify the locations (Copenhagen, Altona, etc). Stage director Peter Oskarson keeps the action lively and with the closeups one does not miss any elaborate set. Parental Warning: nudity. And in one scene a naked teenage boy is whipped to death on a wooden horse. Even so, this is a fascinating opera, in story and music. Interviews with the composer, the maturge, and three principal singers (Reuter, Jansson, Henning-Jensen) add 37 minutes to the extravaganza.


A CC Music Store Solution