Engelbert Humperdinck is best known for his opera Hänsel und Gretel, and his Königskinder (royal children) is heard now and then. More obscure is his Dornröschen (Sleeping Beauty), which I just finished listening to on the Naxos Music Library. I can’t say it’s an undiscovered masterpiece, but it’s interesting enough to merit a few comments.
The Prelude nods without subtlety to Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream overture, and the first act is the familiar Sleeping Beauty story, up to the point where everyone in the castle goes to sleep. The king is amusingly overconfident, and the evil fairy Daemonia has an impressive part, spoken in rhythm rather than sung.
In the second and third acts, things get weird. A hundred years have passed, and Prince Reinhold has learned about the Castle of Thorns and sets out to wake Sleeping Beauty. Daemonia likes him too much to kill him outright, so she sends him into an astrological realm. On his return, he has somehow acquired a Ring of Power (or perhaps more than one; it’s sometimes plural), and the music starts taking a Wagnerian turn. Daemonia tries to seduce him with her magic, but the ring enables him to resist her. He comes to the castle and fights Daemonia offstage, as Mercury provides a blow-by-blow description. After Daemonia dies, the thorns recede, he wakes Sleeping Beauty and everyone else in the castle, and we have the happy ending.
It’s musically enjoyable, and I followed along with an online piano score.