Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Hansel (Alice Coote) and Gretel (Christine Schaefer) [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
16 Jan 2008

A New Hansel und Gretel at the Met

Wagner’s all-conquering chic made apocalyptic music-dramas drawn from folklore the ideal of the nationalistic era; every serious opera composer of the time felt obliged to attempt something in that line.

Engelbert Humperdinck: Hansel und Gretel

Hansel: Alice Coote; Gretel: Christine Schaefer; Gertrude: Rosalind Plowright; Peter: Alan Held; Witch: Adam Klein; Sandman: Sasha Cooke; Dew Fairy: Lisette Oropesa. Conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. Production by Richard Jones. Sets and Costumes by John Macfarlane. English translation by David Pountney.

Above: Hansel (Alice Coote) and Gretel (Christine Schaefer)
All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

Ironically, the only one of these faux-Wagnerian epics that became (and remained) a popular hit was Humperdinck’s 1893 setting of a Grimm fairy tale, which achieved the perfect union of tunes kids could appreciate (and even sing themselves — he wrote them for his sister’s children) and orchestral method that savors of Meistersinger. Hansel und Gretel makes use of Wagnerian counterpoint without all those embarrassing Wagnerian emotions, both immoral and illegal — Hansel and Gretel do not go running joyously into an amorous night.

_MG_7193.pngGertrude (Rosalind Plowright) and Peter (Alan Held)

In the present era, when children imagine themselves too sophisticated for fairy-tale kitsch (though they still love it in the right circumstances, and the old Met production was perfect of its kind), when they are raised on sarcastic cartoon banter and an After-School Special level of squalor, it seems that the presentation of Hansel und Gretel must modernize too. Hence the new Met staging, borrowed from the Welsh National Opera with a number of Brit trappings, such as a Witch in drag out of panto. The titular children, when we meet them, resemble shell-shocked raggedy dolls, listless and starving on oversized chairs in a low-rent kitchen. Later they fall asleep in a forest that resembles a very large dining room (terrific scary-forest wallpaper out of a Maurice Sendak tale and nightmarish waiters with branches for heads), dreaming not of angels but of Pillsbury doughboy chefs. The Witch lives in an industrial kitchen suitable to a summer camp and appears (in Adam Klein’s delicious performance) to be doing Julia Child and Dame Edna in tandem. Papa probably drinks and Mama is haggard from overwork (we are plainly dealing with latchkey kids here), and the dreams are not of Godly salvation but of gaudy desserts.

_MG_5809.pngHansel (Alice Coote), Gretel (Christine Schaefer) and Chefs/Angels

There’s a lot of good fun on the stage — what kid won’t snicker at a grown man in drag? — but will this do for holiday resurrection year upon year, as the fairy tale staging did? Or will once or twice do it? And will the kids have nightmares from those tree-waiters? I did. A friend of mine encountered a subway car full of kids after one of the special matinees of this production, and much as they’d loved the witch, the enormous machine-propelled Mouth that invites our heroes into her house was not their idea of fun.

_MG_7477.pngThe Witch (Adam Klein)

There is a lot of good Wagnerian melody coming from the orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski and a lot of good singing from the soloists, and the staging ideas, if they don’t all make sense, pass the time entertainingly.

_MG_0097.pngThe Sandman (Sasha Cooke), Hansel (Alice Coote) and Gretel (Christine Schaefer)

The piece is performed in an updated translation that sometimes fights with the old-fashioned music, and Christine Schaeffer as Gretel, the only singer in the cast who was not a native English-speaker, had some problems getting her words across — but that’s what subtitles are for. She and Alice Coote (a fine Sesto and Octavian — will I ever see the charming Ms. Coote in a girl’s role?) produce clear, reliably sexless vocal lines — these two proto-Wagnerian characters must carry over a Wagnerian orchestra with apparent childish ease — and they had fun mingling the demands of the libretto with moves borrowed from modern video. Rosalind Plowright looked like a harried denizen of Coronation Street, but the mother’s role is by no means a simple one, and she sang it effectively. Alan Held filled the theater with impressive vigor as the father — it was no surprise after this performance to learn he is preparing Wotan for the D.C. Ring.

_MG_5589.pngThe Dew Fairy (Lisette Oropesa)

Lisette Oropesa sang the Dew Fairy sweetly in hotel chambermaid drag. In short, the piece came off, the Witch got her madcap laughs (we all liked the paper sleeves she placed on Hansel’s wrists and ankles before baking), and there was joy to share. What more does one ask of this opera? Magic?

Of genuine magic there was only one moment all night: the aria of the Sandman, as sung by Sasha Cooke of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artists Program: a light, clear voice, seemingly tiny but produced so that it easily filled the house and fell on each ear like fairy dust, a subtle staging that was, for once, not an intrusion but a rare visit from the atmosphere of Grimm to a corrupted world.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):