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

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

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):