Ivar Hallstrom: Den Bergtagna/The Bride of the Mountain King (1874)

Grand Opera in Five Acts: 2 hours 2 minutes.

The title literally translates to “The Mountain Taken”. Apparently the first performance included some four hours of music, although there is little documented evidence for this apart from a Bachelor’s Thesis by one Goran Gademand for the University of Stockholm in 1987, and the only recording of the opera, by Sterling, gives the above running time. Given that there is relatively little plot (I will go over it below, before the musical review, as usual), I am inclined to believe that either Hallstrom wrote too much music and cut it down (the score was completed in 1871, but it was edited over the next three years before the premiere), or else the Sterling timing is an accurate accounting of the length of the performance score.

SETTING: Kolmården (I will explain), Sweden, the late first millennium of the common era.

Kolmården (the “å” is pronounced more like an “o” in English) is a forested rocky ridge which historically separated the Geats and Swedes and which is today forms the border between the provinces of Sodermanland and Ostergotland in modern Sweden. The area was deemed impassible during the impassible in the Middle Ages, so much so that people actually bypassed the region by sailing on the Baltic Sea instead. The modern day Swedes are a mixture of the Swedes, Geats, and Gutes (sort of happy now that the Swedes gave their name to the country, I can’t image a modern day state of “Geatden” or “Gutsway”

Anyway back to the plot (or what there is of a plot anyway):

Lady Ragnhild (contralto) is the mother of Ingeborg (soprano) who is engaged to the knight Tuve (tenor). Ingeborg is the primary character, the other two disappear after act two. During the wedding breakfast, the sexy Mountain King (tenor) arrives with his henchman Kark (bass) and they enchant the guests with magic music, which allows the King time to attempt to seduce Ingeborg and reveal his desire to kidnap her as his own bride. The wedding party then goes to a monastery in Kolmården run by an abbot named Henrik (bass), where Ingeborg is attracted to a mountain (where the King lives). The sexy King comes out of the mountain with his elves and dwarfs (who dance around with jewelry and sing provocatively). Ingeborg sees them and is lured by our tenor Mountain King into the, well, Mountain (there has got to be a euphemism there). The third act has almost no plot (it is basically an extended ballet sequence in which Ingeborg is introduced to the Mountain Queen-Mother (contralto) and marries the sexy Mountain King). In act four the enchantment wears off and Ingeborg eventually repels the advances of the sexy Mountain King. In act five (which has the same decor as act one but decades later) Ingeborg returns home during a winter storm to discover only the old family servant Ulf (bass) who is now nearly 100 years old and who reveals that her mother is dead. The sexy Mountain King attempts to recapture Ingeborg, who is saved by church bells, but dies in the arms of Ulf as the curtain falls.

As you can see, this is basically Alice in Wonderland meets Tristan und Isolde only with a sexy Mountain King instead of a love potion, (and with surprisedly even less plot than Tristan).

However, now that I have written almost 700 words on this thing, how does all of this stand up musically?



ACT 1: Hall of the Castle of Lady Ragnhild, a wedding breakfast in progress. (30 minutes)

0: After a brief chorale with a bass soloist, the first orchestral music is the prelude **, a surprisedly furious and rather good theme setting piece, introducing a series of musical themes which will both show up later and are catchy.

3: Till gästabuds vi dricka The rather sparkling series of opening drinking choruses ** is broken up by a more placid recitative from Lady Ragnhild and then a change over to waltz time including toasts by Tuve and Ingeborg. Some words from Abbot Henrik and Ragnhild, interactions with Tuve and Ingeborg, forwarding what little plot there is, and musically pleasant.

11: Det var sent om en timma Ulf’s Ballad **, probably the Swedish equivalent of Le veau d’or, is the next item of musical interest, and, although short (all of two minutes), rather catchy. A mysterious hunting horn sounds, which causes everyone to freeze.

15: Jag helsar eder alla! The sexy Mountain King arrives **, and immediately starts chatting up Ingeborg.

18: Lundar i söder nog jag såg The Mountain King sings his first sexy song **, an interesting combination of Italian and German influences.

21: Necken sin harpa slår The second song is less sexy, but far more energetic and furious (and includes choral participation) **. This freezes everyone, so that the King and speak with Ingeborg.

23: Må jag nu den fagra fånga The lingering duet (Ingeborg-Mountain King) is better for the tenorial lilting, but this is enough **. She attempts to resist him (to a combination of Mozart and Gounod). Kark warns that the enchantment is about to end.

27: Guds moder med sin englaskara Ragnhild and the guests fend off the Mountain King with the Sign of the Cross and invoking the Virgin Mary ***. A rather effective, and holy, ending to the act, although the King swears revenge amid crashing cymbals just as effectively.

ACT 2: Near a monastery in the Kolmården, a mountain center stage (14 minutes)

2: Ja, hon skall blifva min The brief entr’acte depicts the longing of the Mountain King, whom we immediately come upon in the wood, singing of his desire for Ingeborg ***. A rather brilliantly executed tenor aria, broken up by church bells (a common theme in this opera) and Christmas caroling in the background. The King retreats to the mountain and calls upon his forces: trolls, dwarfs, elves. This second go is a bit more sedate as Ingeborg comes on and the King tries to pull off his Don Juan again.

8: Guds heliga moder! The second Ingeborg-King love duet ** is more delicate (and seems to be quoting Rossini upon occasion). The elves dances about with jewelry as the Mountain King lures Ingeborg in with jewelry and the mountain closes in on them. Hallstrom manages to pull off a tragic end here and there, we are finished with act two.

ACT 3: (35 minutes)

Scene 1: A cave.

0: Sjud utöfver bergets låga Things have taken a more sinister turn musically * as we come upon the elves busy at their smithy and the Queen Mother enters. A series of influences here (Weber, Meyerbeer, Wagner, Verdi, Gounod) it is hard to pick out one.

4: Jag bära skall gullkronan röd The aria of the Queen Mother *, as she awaits for a goblet to be made for Ingeborg.

8: Ja, jag kan alska! The duet (Queen Mother-Kark) can really be seen as an aria for Kark and then a brief duet. Both are rather furious as a piece ** and appear to be based on Weber (the Eglantine-Lysiart duet from Euryanthe).

Scene 2: In the Hall of the Mountain King (I CAN NOT MAKE THIS UP!).

13: Välkommen till berget The Queen Mother presents the goblet to Ingeborg, who drinks from it. The first cut appears to be here (a duet for Ingeborg and the Mountain King before the arrival of the Queen Mother). Instead we immediately go from the chorus of elves to the quartet **.

18: Jag ar din! The rather brilliant flourish finish is worth looking out for on its own ***.

20, 30: The remainder of the act consists of a ten minute ballet (in G major, marked allegretto grazioso **, although it consists of five movements ranging from placid, to jovial, to racing) and a March in C major ** with a brilliant finish.

ACT 4: A chamber in the Castle of the Mountain King. (27 minutes)

0: Spinn, spinn, gyllne sländan min Ingeborg is already suffering from buyers remorse over the whole being Queen-Consort of the Mountain thing *. It gets a little more upbeat in the second movement. The third, and longest, is rather gloomy. Poor pathetic girl.

8: När oss Bergakungen Kark tries to be a bit more upbeat. It doesn’t really work, but if you notice, there are traces of Moniuszko in the vocal line *. Also, from this point until the finale (which is a trio with chorus), the opera basically consists of a series of duets (with the exception of Ulf’s aria opening the fifth act).

12, 15: Säg, drottning, hvar är sonen din?/Funne du endast källkristallen The next duet is Ingeborg and the Queen Mother. It starts off slow * and a bit unattractive, but takes on a second melody which flows far more placidly **.

21: Herre konung! The rest of the act consists of a duet between Ingeborg and the Mountain King ***. The first half is beautiful, romantic, the second half is powerful, even a little terrifying. It also seems a little confusing as first Ingeborg loves him, and then she doesn’t. He swears revenge as she runs out on him (to the last chords of the act).

ACT 5: Same as Act 1, but decades later. (18 minutes)

0: Och jungfrun hon skulle A brief prelude brings us immediately into a Scandinavian folksong number for the now centenarian-ish Ulf (remember him from act one?) **.

5: Hu, jag fryser! Ingeborg arrives * during a snow storm (the cymbals) and is filled in on the current details by Ulf about her mother. She reveals where she has been, in the Hall of the Mountain King!

11: Du nämnt mitt namn! The play-out ***: Suddenly, the Mountain King appears in a glowing red light and demands that Ingeborg come back with him: she now knows that everyone she has loved is now dead: only Ulf the old servant is left. Instead, he can give her joy, luxury, for all eternity. However, she rejects him, fury ensues (orchestral fury), broken only by the arrival of church bells, which causes the Mountain King to flee. The opera ends with this combination of the church bells tolling and a Christmas hymn, returning to the theme of act 2. Slowly, layer after layer of the music is peeled away: the soloists, then the orchestra, then the chorus, leaving only the bells and the sopranos on a held note (for a solid two minutes), until only the bells are left and these also fade out.


The good:

The orchestral, choral, and tenor vocal work are excellent. Just coming out of the first act, the longest if we discount the extended ballet in act three, a rather high bar is set. However, the score is able to satisfy from start to finish melodically, the ending fade out being rather original for the time. Ingeborg is a far more sympathetic heroine than Isaura will be in Vikingarna.

The bad:

The work suffers from some of the structural conventions of grand opera, including having even less of a storyline than usual for a five-act structure. Although Vanda might be a three-act structure stretched out to five, this is more of a two-act structure stretched out to five and, if the score were not so melodious, that would prove lethal. There is little build up attached to the very little plotting, the only character that is mostly developed being the Mountain King, whose true motivations are never completely clear. There are essentially no subplots, even the characters who exist outside of the direct storyline (Ulf, for instance) are subordinate to the singular story, which has bones but little muscle to it.

The characters:

The main character is Ingeborg, but you would not know this until act four. The motivation is cloudy: is Ingeborg enchanted into marrying the Mountain King, or does she do so of her own free will? Does the Mountain King really love Ingeborg, or is he only using her for his own vanity? How does Ingeborg not know that decades have past? Was the goblet in act three a forgetting potion? Why specifically is Ulf the one left alive, and not the original love interest, Tuve, who is basically gone by the end of act one? The opera never answers any of these questions (and perhaps it does not have to).

Oddly, an alpha.


Swedish Musical Heritage: Ivar Hallstrom: Den Bergtagna: Romantic Opera in Five Acts:


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