RWW on Hansel and Gretel

A scene from Act II of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel with Alice Coote as Hansel and Christine Schäfer as Gretel. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Comments by RMW after seeing MET Opera Live HD broadcast on 1/01/2008

I find myself in almost complete agreement with the previous posters on the Hansel and Gretel which I saw yesterday afternoon in Edgewater, NJ (1 mile from my apartment). Despite being a little slow to get the pre-performance pictures of the auditorium– talk about marketing shots of adorable children that can be used forever and a slowness to turn up the lights at the END so the senior citizen brigade could leave with their walkers in safety, the venue was perfect. Best sound and picture of any of the 4 venues I have seen HD in. The credits moved quickly, and I believe the video director was Elizabeth Sweete, in any case not Gary Halvorson or Brian Large who have done all the ones up to now. Her efforts were very fine. I think the backstage stuff is starting to wear thin for us “regulars”, but her shot selection was judicious and she actually reminded me a bit of Kirk Browning’s pioneering work in televised opera. Congratulations on a deepening “bench” of technical talent.

A fellow lister’s posting reminded me of my first encounter with Hansel and Gretel at the age of 10 at an elementary school in Dallas, Texas (NOT the fancy side of town), where there was a student production of Hansel and Gretel, and the one Jewish student in the school happened to be the witch (and a very good one). The religious elements of the story were not stinted in this 1957 “production”, and the musical impression of the Prayer and gathering of angels was certainly one of the first things sending me down the operatic road– Spike Jones and his bubble gum factory version of Carmen was another (I really need to track this down and hear how this sounds to 61 year old ears).

People have complained about John MacFarlane’s designs, but the real villain of the Met production in my view is Richard Jones. My only encounter with him was his Siegfried at Covent Garden about 15 or so years ago. Another anti-mythology (in his Gotterdammerung which I didnt see,I think Brunnhilde (or is it Siegfried?) enters with a paper sack over their head in the second act. Well, Wagner can withstand this treatment (although he shouldnt have to). Hansel and Gretel, despite the above, is not one of my favorite operas, and the designs did not look promising to me. I was hoping for maybe a Maurice Sendak quality in the realization, but this was grim stuff indeed, and while some kids might like the approach, I can’t see a poor parent enduring multiple exposures to this as different aged children grow up. By sharp contrast, last night Channel 13 replayed the Taymor Magic Flute last night, and you could see where so many things had gone so right. Some elders don’t care for Taymor’s work here (I happen to love it, my main complaint being the sometimes clanky set) but she is so WITH the music in comparison with what was on view in the Hansel. The Pountney translation for Hansel deserves the critical brickbats– SOOOO British for a “family” presentation.

The McClatchy translation for Zauberflote I thought worked rather well, not especially better than the standard Ruth and Thomas P. Martin, but up to date and NOT inhibiting or going against the libretto. The Flute looks like a classic, and the Hansel looks like a once more and out with it at best.

Musically, Jurowski gave the music all the respect the production team seemed to ignore. There were probably more shots of the orchestra for this than for any HD effort so far, and I enjoyed them. The Met should give more recognition to the Orchestra on its website. For the last 30+ years, they have been the most consistent element in quality performances at the Met (with great thanks to Levine, certainly his enduring legacy). I’m sure Joe Clark is a great technical guy (and the information on the Rockland Bakery and Jean George’s Black Forest cake WAS important news for us locals), but a little more on one of the Met’s star performers– its orchestra. The singers acted and sang well (though to parrot Harold Rosenthal), was there such need to import non USA people for so many of these parts? Alan Held along with Sacha Curry, I think the only other Yank in the cast was an excellent Father. Langridge was a fine Witch, and I did think his costume was very funny. Many are comparing to a demented Julia Child. How soon we forget the “Two Fat Ladies” from the Food Network riding around England on the motorcycle and sidecar. I think that is part of the sourcing as well. The children’s chorus sounded particularly mellifluous (Donald Palumbo at work there too? or Jurowski– they sounded better than they have for some time– maybe the presence of Renee’s daughter 😉

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