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Work of the Week – Wilfried Hiller: Der Rattenfänger

A modern Brothers Grimm fairy tale: On July 15th 2023, the opera Der Rattenfänger by Wilfried Hiller with a libretto by Michael Ende will celebrate its premiere at the Theater Pforzheim. Robin Davis is the conductor, and Markus Hertel the director of the new production.

In the play, which was written in 1993, two legends are mixed together: on the one hand, the legend from the south of France of the man who led the rats out of the town and thus freed the town from the plague of rats. The other is the legend from Hamelin of the whistler who leads the children away. In the 15th/16th century, these two legends merged into one. However, in both stories the questions of why this happened and the Pied Piper's reward remain unanswered. Michael Ende and Wilfried Hiller have added the answers to these two questions to their work. Ende inserted the mediaeval figure of the Rat King in his libretto for this purpose. Until the century before last, this figure was used as an expression of the entanglement of power and economic interests, and in Ende's libretto, modern lobbying was used as a model. For the children who suffer in the story, the street children of Mexico City and New Delhi were remembered. Thus, Der Rattenfänger is a dark retelling of a fairy tale classic with elements of modern society.

A dark musical entanglement: Der Rattenfänger by Wilfried Hiller

Hiller studied music from the 13th century extensively for the composition of the work. This is why Der Rattenfänger has characteristics of Gothic music. Mainly in the singing parts, but also in the orchestral writing, there are no terce and resolutions in the tonic. In addition, the Spielmann's sound world is mainly based on Eastern Jewish music and is played by a solo clarinet instead of a singing voice. Towards the end of the opera, the individual sound elements of the individual characters merge together into one large mesh.

When Michael Ende gave me the finished libretto, I immediately set about developing a musical structure, an architectural skeleton, by setting 'punctuations', as it were, such as the comma with the claves or the question mark with the cymbal. In a certain sense, I have tried to immerse Ende's libretto in colours, so that each image has its very own tonal character. (Wilfried Hiller)

Der Rattenfänger will be performed three more times at the theatre in Pforzheim: on 21, 23 and 28 July 2023.



Wilfried Hiller: Composer Profile

Michael Ende: Komponistenprofil

Der Rattenfänger: Work Details and Online Score

Website Theater Pforzheim


Foto: Astrid Ackermann