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

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

Cosi fan tutte in Salzburg

This Cosi fan tutte concludes the Salzburg Festival's current Mozart / DaPonte cycle staged by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival's head of artistic planning.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Engelbert Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel
07 Apr 2009

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel

Originally directed by Brooks Riley for German television, this updated staging of Engelbert Humperdinck’s familiar opera Hänsel und Gretel is based on a production created by Johannes Felsenstein, the son of the well-known director of the Komische Oper Berlin, Walter Felsenstein.

Engelbert Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel

Peter - Ludmil Kuntschew; Gertrud - Alexandra Petersamer; Hansel - Sabine Noack; Gretel - Cornelia Marschall; Die Knusperhexe - Ludmil Kuntschew; Sandmännchen / Taumännchen - Viktorija Kaminskaite. Dessau Anhalt Theater Childrens Choir. Dessau Anhalt Philharmonic Orchestra. Markus L. Frank, conductor.

Arthaus Musik 101321 [DVD]

$24.98  Click to buy

Drawing on the tradition of his father for innovative productions, Johannes Felsenstein has created a memorable staging of Hänsel und Gretel, which uses historic footage from the 1930s containing images of hungry children in breadlines and other, similar impoverished situations, to set the tone. The footage fades into the opening scene, which takes its graphic cues from that period for the costumes and decor. Not set in some undefined, romanticized period of German peasant life, this modern setting of Hänsel und Gretel provides tangible visual cues to establish the sense of poverty which is essential to understanding some aspects of the plot. The comments of Suzanne Schultz, the principal dramatic adviser of the Anhaltisches Theater Dessay found in her essay about the opera in the booklet that accompanies the DVD are particularly relevant in this regard:

The memories of one’s own childhood conjured up by the music is, at the same time, an encounter with a cultural past. By returning to archetypes and reviving our cultural inheritance, the opera not only pinpoints the ambience and problems of its own time. It also throws up questions that go far beyond the twentieth century and remain highly charged issues even today. Hänsel und Gretel is a work that inspires us to approach with a sense of remembrance and reflection with a conscience and a view to the past, those who are weakest and whose burden is greatest in times of hardship - the world’s children.

To this end Felsenstein also uses film later in his production, such as when the father describes the witch, with images of tanks from the Second World War and short battle scenes create a different effect than intended when placed in the context of this opera. In this context, the images imply that Hitler is the witch, which also suggests that the witch is more powerful than depicted in Bechstein’s fairytale, thus contributing some eerie connotations to the line about the witch throwing children into ovens, a connection that Humperdinck could not have imagined in his conception of the opera. Similarly, the idea of hunting the witch becomes even starker when the caricature of Uncle Sam coincides with the father’s statement to his wife that it’s important for both of them to seek out the witch (“Wir wollen ja beide zum Hexenritt”). This staging contributes an element of surrealism to the story and makes this staging into something more than a fairytale, especially with the images of riots and firebombed cities during the prelude to the second act. Still unseen at this point, the witch for this production is much more powerful than found in other, more conventional settings of Hänsel und Gretel. At the same time, it also sets off the childish behavior of the children, unaware of the dangerous world all around them. While the staging involves anachronisms that detract from a sense of authenticity, as do some of the attempts at realism, like the depiction of the father’s drunkenness.

The conclusion, when the other children the witch enchanted are returned to life is effective stagecraft for the opera house. Presented on video, though, it loses something in the visual translation, since the camera must move into the audience and blur the scenic world confined to this point on the stage, and shift to focus in the theater. The blue-toned images of the children approaching the proscenium from the theater call attention to the spatial differences, which are further accentuated by the shot of the conducting leading the children’s chorus. Yet the ending of the scene works well, with the children depicted as working their own magic on Hänsel and Gretel, which leads well into the final chorus and the conclusion of the opera.

This production of Hänsel und Gretel is also of interest because it is based on the new critical edition of the score by Hans-Josef Irmen and published by Schott. As familiar as this score is to many audiences, it is useful to have a performance based on the recently vetted edition, which lends authority to this already fine reading of the score. That stated, it is difficult to account for the decision of having the singer who portrays the father to take on the role of the witch. While this makes sense in the context of the production, which has the parents looking on as the children awaken, and then tease the children by singing the witch’s famous line about who is nibbling at her gingerbread house. From that point the father dons the kerchief (presumably of the mother) to carry out the scene with the witch. In this sense, the fantasy is part of make-believe in the home, and not part of the fairytale world found in the story as rendered by Bechstein or the Grimm Brothers. As stagecraft, this works, but in terms of the musical score Ludmil Kuntschew has used a head voice in various passages. Traditionally the role is sung by a tenor or, in some houses, the soprano who plays the mother, so the choice of the baritone here departs from practice.

The two women who portray the children, Hänsel by Sabine Noack and Gretel by Cornelia Marschall, are quite effective in their portrayals of the two characters. In addition to their fine command of the music, they evoke the children physically in their interactions with each other. Even in the comparatively plainer setting of the children’s passage through the forest, the reactions of Marchall as Gretel give a sense of elements she alone can see, and thus play upon the attentive viewer. Noack has captured the mannerisms of the boy Hänsel nicely, and at times it is difficult to imagine that she is playing a boy. As their parents, Kuntschew is convincing as the father, and Alexandra Petersamer delivers the role of the mother well.

All in all, though, this thought-provoking staging of Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel brings into the work associations which attempt to intensify the dramatic situations. The anachronisms from the Third Reich make this staging perhaps less accessible to younger audiences, who might be need some explanation of the newsreel footage that underscores some scenes. A regular part of the opera repertoire at many houses, since its premiere on 23 December 1893, Hänsel und Gretel retains its association with Yuletide celebrations, particularly in the final scenes, but this production contains allusions to other elements in German culture to set it apart from other, more conventional presentations. Yet enough traditional elements remain in the production to remind viewers of the associations of this work with Christmas, and some of the picturesque tableaux are visually effective, not only at the conclusion of the work, but also in the tender scene as the children fall asleep at the end of the second act, with the angels around them and the parents tucking the children into their beds. As strong as the visual dimension is in this production, the musical elements are well executed throughout, an aspect of opera that must be solidly in place to anchor any production.

James Zychowicz

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):