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I love opera and I love Hansel Und Gretel. This production however
didn't work for me at all, and one of about three or four opera
productions I didn't care for. It does have its good points, the
beautiful music, excellent sound and picture quality, the great
orchestra playing and conducting and great performances from Christine
Schaefer, Alice Coote and Alan Held.
However in alternative to timeless like the story and music, the production was disgusting and mean-spirited with little to no subtlety. The sets are okay if limited, but the costumes particularly with the pigs replacing angels and the Witch's prosthetic arms are rather cheap looking.
The music is brilliant, no question about it, and the story timeless. They are cheapened however by the staging. The Dream Ballet is ineptly choreographed, having no cuteness, charm or magic if anything it felt more like a parody, and the finale disappointingly is very joyless. The Evening Prayer is the only bright spot in terms of staging.
Even worse are some of the really distasteful touches thought up by Jones. And this is not just the pig angels and fish butlers. There's also Gertrude vomiting large chunks of food in full view of the audience on hearing of the Witch, the Witch force-feeding Hansel by pushing a funnel and tube down his throat and after the Witch is pushed into the oven Gretel smears chocolate onto Hansel's upper lip so that he looks like Hitler.
While the performances are mostly very good, two don't work. They are Rosalind Plowright who comes across as very shrill as Gertrude, and perhaps the biggest disappointment of the production Phillip Langridge who seems very ill-at-ease and flabby as the Witch, he is neither funny or menacing, when he tries to be either he overdoes it.
Overall, a Hansel Und Gretel production that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. See the 1981 Vienna and 1982 Met productions for what the opera really is like. 4/10 Bethany Cox
I settled down to watch what I thought was a new production of Hansel
and Gretel from the New York Met but I very soon realised that this is
an old production of Welsh National Opera's that I saw in Birmingham
four years ago. In fact, to be fair to the Welsh, the production is
much older than that and originally opened in Cardiff.
Well, it is a famous production but I was not exactly overwhelmed when I saw it live and some of the faults are still obvious in this film from the Met. The first scene takes place in a tiny set that looks lost on the vast Met stage. The second scene, in the forest, also takes place in a box but this time it is covered in leafy wallpaper. You may imagine that the director and designer are saving all their money for a spectacular final act in the witch's cottage but you would be wrong. This production has short arms and long pockets. Nevertheless, when the camera moves in close, you can wallow in Humperdinks sumptuous Wagner-influenced music and forget the shortcomings of the set. There is lots of fun to be had from this production and I particularly liked the dream banquet with the 14 angels replaced by 14 gravitationally challenged chefs and a fish waiter. I also enjoyed the final act in the witch's cottage which is more ghoulishly humorous than I remembered from the live production.
The star-studded cast includes Christine Schafer as Gretel, perversely having to sing in English rather than her native German although her accent does add a touch of authenticity. Hansel is Alice Coote making an effortless transition from her usual trouser roles to this short-trouser role. Unfortunately, in the forest, both children smear their faces with strawberries so, for the rest of the opera they look as though they are suffering from a severe attack of eczema. Best of all is a latex-dripping Philip Langridge as the witch whose comic timing goes from strength to strength.
The witty English translation is by David Pountney. What a pity these films from the Met persist in subtitling English language operas, presumably for the benefit of deaf opera-lovers. In the opera house you can just ignore the surtitles but that is not so easy when watching a film.
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