Magazine article Musical Opinion

Hansel and Gretel

Magazine article Musical Opinion

Hansel and Gretel

Article excerpt

Engelbert Humperdincks Hansel and Gretel, which returned to the Met on the afternoon of 24 December - don't managements consider that even, ink-stained wretches though we are, critics might have something to do, or somewhere to be, on Christmas Eve - in a completely new production, is a strange if beguiling piece of work. However, always willing to steal the odd plume from a colleague, I do note that Martin Bernheimer, the best and most authoritative of our New York opera critics, memorably - in the course of not entirely unfavorable review - referred to it in The Financial Times, most unbeguilingly, as Hambone and Gristle.

Still, it is a fairy-tale opera, handsomely plumped up with Wagnerian-style music Wagner was the composer's mentor - and telling the familiar Grimm fairytale of children lost in a Witches' wood, made far less grim by a libretto liberally sugaring the original and introducing a comforting mock religiosity to a virtually pagan theme. Musically the performance went with a swing. Russian Vladimir Jurowski, now principal conductor of the LPO and music director of Glyndebourne, is far too rare a visitor to the Met, and superbly handled his Wagnerian-size orchestra as if it were playing Tristan, which is absolutely right.

Unfortunately the text is crassly translated into English by David Pountney, presumably to make it more accessible to children - the management's doubts as to its usefulness being clearly if cynically registered by the customary use of Met-titles. Why not also use the original German, if people need titles to understand the English?

The cast was brilliantly led by the distinguished tenor Philip Langridge, as the cannibalistic witch, singing with a perfect edge and all dolled up in motherly drag, looking like a sinister Robin Williams in the movie Mrs Doubtfire. The children she hopes to have for supper - after being tastefully baked into gingerbread - were the fast-rising British mezzosoprano Alice Coote, exceptional as a neatly boyish Hansel and the excellent sweet-voiced German soprano Christine Schafer as the resourceful Gretel. …

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