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Attractive and Skilful

Royal Opera's
'Hansel and Gretel' -
recommended by

'... a first class cast ...'

Hansel and Gretel. © 2009 Opus Arte

There must be few better Christmas gifts for the opera lover -- and indeed music lover -- of any age than the recent Covent Garden DVD production of Humperdinck's lovely fairy-tale in three acts, Hansel and Gretel. It is a live recording combining two performances in December 2008 conducted by Sir Colin Davis and directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, with attractive and skilful stage designing by Christian Fennouillat. This was a new production, and as may well be expected, the Royal Opera assembled a first class cast led by Angelika Kirchschlager as Hansel and Diana Damrau as Gretel who are not altogether as old fashioned as the story might suggest.

Watch and listen -- Brüderchen, komm tanz mit mir (Act I scene 1)
(DVD1 chapter 3, 14:31-15:43) © 2008 Royal Opera House/Opus Arte

The aging and impoverished yet quite lovable parents are in the care of a father, sung by Sir Thomas Allen with a knowing twinkle in his eye, and Elizabeth Connell, as full of concerned woe as any mother not sure where the next meal will come from.

Watch and listen -- Rallalala, rallalala (Act I scene 3)
(DVD1 chapter 5, 23:55-25:46) © 2008 Royal Opera House/Opus Arte

The children flee the troubled house into a woodland, bright and appealing until darkness and hunger summon reality. There is a very careful approach in this production to bring the tale a little nearer our own time, yet the essential elements of the story are not easily updated. The Sandman (Pumeza Matshikiza in an intriguing disguise) floats away after charming the children into an enchanted sleep.

Watch and listen -- Abends will ich schlafen gehn (Act II scene 2)
(DVD1 chapter 12, 52:23-54:18) © 2008 Royal Opera House/Opus Arte

A brief appearance by Anita Watson as the Dew Fairy heralds the morning of enchantment with a cleaning trolley and some neat effects.

Watch and listen -- Der kleine Taumann heiß ich (Act III scene 1)
(DVD2 chapter 2, 3:13-4:42) © 2008 Royal Opera House/Opus Arte

The greatest problem for any kind of modernization is how to present a witch, and in this performance it takes the form, not of a hooked-nose hag with a pointed hat, but a thoroughly detestable old woman with partly dyed hair, a Zimmer frame she doesn't need, a manic laugh and a taste for baking children into cakes -- a character that might well be frightening to Roald Dahl's generation of readers. The designers also created a huge kitchen for her with an industrial oven, a vast fridge full of prepared children and an impressive worktop and storage cupboard for full sized gingerbread children.

Watch and listen -- Der Teig ist gar (Act III scene 3)
(DVD2 chapter 8, 28:58-30:55) © 2008 Royal Opera House/Opus Arte

True to the Grimm Brothers original, the witch is baked, the children fully revived from their comatose state, and the happy parents find their lost Hansel and Gretel.

Watch and listen -- Juch ... Ei, da sind sie ja! (Act III, final scene)
(DVD2 chapter 12, 41:27-43:10) © 2008 Royal Opera House/Opus Arte

Happy ever after! The two-disc set includes a synopsis, cast introductions at rehearsal with some background to the complex makeup, and a nine-minute interview with Colin Davis. It will make an excellent and highly recommended present.

Copyright © 21 December 2009 Patric Standford,
Wakefield UK











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