Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

Cast announced for Bampton Classical Opera's 2017 production of Salieri's The School of Jealousy

Following highly successful UK premières of Salieri’s Falstaff (in 2003) and Trofonio’s Cave (2015), this summer Bampton Classical Opera will present the first UK performances since the late 18th century of arguably his most popular success: the bitter comedy of marital feuding, The School of Jealousy (La scuola de’ gelosi). The production will be designed and directed by Jeremy Gray and conducted by Anthony Kraus from Opera North. The English translation will be by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray. The cast includes Nathalie Chalkley (soprano), Thomas Herford (tenor) and five singers making their Bampton débuts:, Rhiannon Llewellyn (soprano), Kate Howden (mezzo-soprano), Alessandro Fisher (tenor), Matthew Sprange (baritone) and Samuel Pantcheff (baritone). Alessandro was the joint winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Competition 2016.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Handel's Partenope: surrealism and sensuality at English National Opera

Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a lesson in Patience

A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.

Tara Erraught: mezzo and clarinet in partnership at the Wigmore Hall

Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.

Opera Across the Waves

This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful producers of opera.

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a disappointing Tosca

During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Angelika Kirchschlager as Hänsel [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera]
22 Dec 2008

Hänsel and Gretel at Covent Garden

Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel is titled a Märchenspiel — a Fairytale: and as twentieth-century psychologists and psychoanalysts have been eager to inform us, lurking beneath those familiar saccharine stories of sleeping princesses, defeated tyrants, love fulfilled and harmony restored, lie the dark shadows of the human heart — passionate, violent, unpredictable and unredeemed.

Engelbert Humperdinck: Hänsel and Gretel

Hänsel (Angelika Kirchschlager/Alice Coote); Gretel (Diana Damrau/Camilla Tilling); Gertrud (Elizabeth Connell/Irmgard Vilsmaier); Peter (Thomas Allen/Eike Wilm Schulte); Witch (Anja Silja/Ann Murray); Sandman (Pumeza Matshikiza/Eri Nakamura); Echo (Eri Nakamura/Simona Mihai/Anita Watson/Pumeza Matshikiza); Dew Fairy (Anita Watson/Simona Mihai). The Royal Opera. Conductor: Colin Davis/Robin Ticciat. Director: Moshe Leiser/Patrice Caurier. Set Designs: Christian Fenouillat.

Above: Angelika Kirchschlager as Hänsel [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera]

 

So, directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier are faced with a choice: is this ‘children’s opera’ a tale of sugary sentimentality or a gothic nightmare? To my mind, they aren’t quite sure … The opening act presents a realistic portrait of ‘modern-day family life’, complete with financial woes, parental neglect, bolshy children and over-sexed adults; the second act glides into a kitschy fantasy landscape in which magic and mystery induce a sense of temporary calm, and banish the demons and debt collectors; while, in the final act, menace and maliciousness are unmercilessly unleashed, shocking us almost as much as the thunderous explosion which brings to an end the witch’s depraved malevolence.

Diana Damrau as Gretel [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera]Diana Damrau as Gretel [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera]

Christian Fenouillat’s set — a box cradled within a box, all sharp angles and distorted perspectives — recalls his designs for Leiser’s and Caurier’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Hansel’s and Gretel’s bedroom is similarly sparse, even bland, in decoration; and, unfortunately, there is little room within this confined space for the physical movement and dancing which the libretto seems to demand, in this act and subsequently. However, as in the earlier collaboration, the enclosed space is effortlessly transformed by clever use of sliding walls and subtle projections, effecting a graceful transition from the real to the fantastic, from the Spar shopping bag to the miniature gingerbread house. And, the final scenic transformation into the witch’s kitchen is both slick and unnerving. Indeed, the fact that the tiny room is translated into different environments may suggest that all the landscapes through which the children wander are transformed versions of their own home — a more subtle psychological reading than some of those proposed elsewhere in this production. Moreover, although the angel-hamsters, complete with fairy-light encrusted wings, who bless the sleeping children in the central act may have been a little too twee for some, Fenouillat's designs for the woodland are beautifully conceived, a magical scrolling panorama leading the children, and us, through the enchanted trees.

One could be forgiven for forgetting that Alice Coote (Hansel) and Camilla Tilling (Gretel) are full-grown adults and not in fact young siblings - boisterous, bickering, bearing the bravado of childhood — so faultless were their vocal and dramatic performances. The characterisation was strong and immediate, the mannerisms of childhood perfectly conveyed. We are familiar with Coote’s unruly, over-excitable Hansel from her recent Met performances, but she was matched by Tilling who captured Gretel’s mixture of innocence and mischief. Tilling was more understated at the opening, but warmed into the role, responding richly to Coote’s sweet low registers; the timbral blending in the later duets was exquisite as the vocalists expertly conveyed the sense of fun, the petulance, the fear, the ingenuity of children. Both relished the words, enunciating clearly.

Ann Murray’s Witch was a fearful figure — both literally, with her pendulous, exposed breasts, and symbolically, as, casting her redundant Zimmer frame ruthlessly aside, she charged about a kitchen clearly designed for mechanised killing. Here the sets created a real sense of ‘theatre’, the industrial-sized gas ovens, meat hooks and hanging corpses chillingly echoing the mass murders of the concentration camps. As she tumbled headfirst into Aga’s blue flames, the ensuing explosion was a genuinely disquieting coup de théâtre. Murray’s delivery of the role was superb: the intonation was secure and the tone full, never remotely shrill.

If there could be no doubting Murray’s evil intent, Eri Nakamura’s Sandman was a more curious conception: half-human, half-puppet, this unsettling miniature ‘gremlin’ sported a disturbing rubber mask and stuttered along with grotesque, stilted shuffles. Nakamura, while sweet-toned, occasionally struggled to achieve ensemble with the orchestra; however, in her defence, the peculiar characterisation meant that she had to project from the very back of the stage, an absurdity when the children into whose eyes she was supposedly dripping sand, were lying at the front.

Indeed, dramatically the second act failed entirely to convince, lacking the genuine magic it demands. The long sleep sequence, when the children dream of a loving home, was unimaginatively staged: two cosy armchairs snuggled close to a glowing fireside, as Hansel and Gretel delightedly unwrapped the delicate layers of their Christmas presents — to discover a homely sandwich … a symbol of their essential need for love and family perhaps, but less than enchanting. The Dew Fairy, sung by Simona Mihai, was cast as a pink-enswathed Barbie Doll, complete with rubber gloves and spray polish — although in this rather sanitised environment, there was clearly no chance of her ‘marigolds’ getting dirty!

However, pushing aside these small quibbles, it was a glorious musical evening. There were certainly no weak links among the vocalists. The children’s parents, Eike Wilm Schulte as Father, and Irmgard Vilsmaier as Mother, were vocally precise and projected well — indeed, Vilsmaier’s round, ringing tone reminded one of Humperdinck’s debt to Wagner, and there was a danger that at times she would smother, both musically and physically, the less statuesque Schulte! The gingerbread children, performed by the Tiffin Boys’ Choir and Tiffin Children’s Chorus, seemed not the least perturbed by their spell in the Witch’s freezer: their singing was pure, true, and secure in intonation and ensemble.

Shaping and supporting all, was the Royal Opera House orchestra under the baton of 25-year-old Robin Ticciati. Ticciati swept through the score with a sure sense of dramatic pace and musical colour, sensitive to the voices and yet aware of the importance of the orchestra in this Wagner-influenced score. From the warm, horn lullabies that open the work, he coaxed a myriad of colours from the orchestra, seeking and finding just the right timbre and mood to match the dramatic transitions between scenes and imaginative worlds. The overtures and entr’actes were, thankfully, not staged, allowing the audience to relax and revel in the landscapes Ticciati created.

Overall this was a delightful evening: Ticciati balanced momentum and lyricism; all soloists performed with conviction, style and vocal sureness; the designs charmed; and, in the end, good defeated evil.

Claire Seymour

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):