• Erik Bergman
  • The Singing Tree (1988)
    (Det sjungande trädet)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Finnish National Opera for the opening season of Finland's new opera house in Helsinki

English version by Stephen Oliver, Kerstin Lindman-Stafford / German version by Ulrike Flacke-Karger

  • 2222/4331/hp/timp/5perc/str
  • SATB
  • 3S, Mz, A, 2T, 2Bar, B
  • 2 hr 16 min
  • Bo Carpelan
  • English, German, Swedish

Programme Note


Konungen (King) - tenor
Häxan (The Witch) - alto
Prinsessan (Princess) - soprano
Prins Hatt (Prince Hatt) - baritone
Narren (The Fool) - baritone
Handelsmannen (The Fruit Seller) - bass
Prinsessa 1 (Princess 1) - mezzo-soprano
Prinsessa 2 (Princess 2) - soprano
Tre soloröster (Three solo voices) - soprano, alto, tenor


Based on an ancient Swedish folk tale concerning a virgin princess who is forbidden to see her lover in the light. The King of Light’s youngest daughter asks for a branch from the singing tree she has seen in her dreams. The King finds the tree and breaks off a branch, but Prince Hatt warns that he must be married to the first girl the King meets.
This proves to be his youngest daughter. The Fool warns that the Princess must never look at the Prince in the Light, but she casts a light which blinds him and ages her. Later,
the singing tree helps the Princess find her husband, the witch mother is destroyed by light and the couple are restored and reunited.


Prince Hatt wants to escape from the dark underground lair where he is a prisoner, but his mother — a witch — is determined to foil all his attempts to get tree.

Act I
Scene 1.
The Royal Court. The King of Light is leaving for the town and asks his three daughters what gifts they would like to receive on his return. The youngest princess, unlike her spoilt older sisters, asks for a branch of a singing tree which she has seen and heard in a dream, and which uttered a strange and compelling sound.

Scene 2.
The court Fool, the young princess' faithful companion, (acting as narrator, clown and soothsayer all rolled into one) sings of chivalrous love to his marionette puppet.

Scene 3.
Prince Hatt pleads with his mother to set him free. He wants the opportunity to tail in love. The Witch agrees, but only on condition that he may never meet his loved one face to face.

Scene 4.
The Fool explains to his puppet all the finer points of love's mysteries.

Scene 5.
The King is returning through the forest from the town with his escort. He notices the Singing Tree and just as he is about to take a branch from it, he (and he alone) hears both a warning and demand from Prince Hatt. The King is made to promise that the first maiden which he meets on his return to the castle will become the Prince's wife.

Scene 6.
The Fool comments on the action so far.

Scene 7.
On the King's arrival at the castle, the young princess runs to meet him, and the King is overtaken by horror remembering the promise he has made, but realizes he must keep his word. The Princess sings of her yet unfulfilled feelings of love, with the joys and sorrows they bring. (The singing branch).

Scene 8.
In the Prince's underground lair, the Prince and Princess sing of their love for one another. (Is that you who is near me?) The Princess vows to the Prince that she will never let him see her. The Witch weaves a spell which sends them both into a deep sleep and at the same time instills a burning desire in the Princess to see the Prince.

Scene 9.
The fool relates the events so far to his puppet.

Scene 10.
The Royal Court. The sisters demand to see the young Princess' betrothed, and — urged on by the Witch in disguise — persuade the King to comply. The Fool warns of the consequences, but the King orders him to bring the Princess to him from the underground lair.

Scene 11.
The Princess gains the permission of the Prince to go to meet her father. The Witch's evil plan is reaching its culmination.

Scene 12.
The Fool comments on the action to his puppet and predicts the turn of events to come.

Scene 13.
The Royal Court. The King and the sisters convince the young Princess that she must meet her betrothed face to face at all cost. The warnings of the Fool fall on deaf ears.

Scene 14.
In the underground lair, the Princess shines a light on the Prince's face while he is asleep. The Princess shrivels and turns into a withered and ragged woman as the jubilant Witch whisks her cheated son away.

The Fool comments on the action (Heaven or Hell).

Act II
Scene 1.
In the murky dark of the forest, the Princess sings of her despair, guilt and loneliness. (Dismal world).

Scene 2.
The King and his escort are passing through the forest. He comes across his daughter but does not recognise her at first, even though her voice seems familiar — like the echo of his lost child. He recognises the voice, but only after the Princess has departed. Since no one among his escort realises that it was the Princess, they think that the King is delirious.

Scene 3.
The Witch's Lair. The Witch curses the name of the Princess to Prince Hatt, blaming her for betraying her lonely, confused and despairing son.

Scene 4.
The Market Place. The Princess and the Fool have come to the market. A stall-holder, selling fruit, sings of sensuous and worldly pleasures (You there, you from the monastery). The Fool jokes back at him, and soon they are surrounded by a crowd of amused market-goers. The scene turns into a riotous merriment. When the hubbub subsides, and all have left, the Princess sings of her unhappiness and woe (Ah, and that's how I am torn) and begs the singing tree to grant her a sign: to give her the light and power with which she can find her Prince Hatt once more.

Scene 5.
The Witch and the Princess battle for the heart of Prince Hatt. The Princess promises to give the Witch the power of light in exchange for a chance to see Prince Hatt again. The Witch believes she is all-powerful and cannot lose the struggle.
Scene 6.
The Princess, clothed in tatters, meets Prince Hatt, who recognises her voice. They sing a love duet (You're here then).

Scene 7.
The Fool comments on the action to his puppet, and relates events yet to come.

Scene 8.
The Witch has invited the King and his daughters to the wedding of Prince Hatt and the 'ragamuffin princess'. She wallows in her power over the King and boasts of the power of light which she now possesses. But at the very moment she starts to conjure forth the light, it destroys her. With her dying breath, she makes the Princess blind. The Princess is restored to her former youth and beauty — but, alas, she is still blind. The Prince and Princess embrace.

Autumnal duet: Prince Hatt and the Princess, now in their old age, sing of the life's fickleness and transitoriness. (I once stood here).

© Finnish National Opera, 1995
(translated by © Jaakko Mäntyjärvi)


Det sjungande tradet, Op. 110 (The Singing Tree)



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