Hansel and Gretel - Humperdinck - Royal Opera House
Engelbert Humperdinck was born in 1854 and was recognised as a disciple of Wagner. His most famous composition was the opera Hansel and Gretel, which had its World Premiere in Weimar, Germany in 1893, under the baton of Richard Strauss. It was an overwhelming success and even to this day, the sugar-coated musical sounds are sweet to the ear.
Bearing in mind that in the story the witch’s house is made of sweets and candy with lots of chocolate, perhaps the composer intended for the whole performance to be sugar-coated! In Antony McDonald’s production, he seems to have achieved this to a great degree. With clever use of Swiss mountain backdrops and lighting – by the designer Lucy Carter – we are given a fairy-tale journey into the forest world and of course the story ends ‘happily ever after’. There was a great cast of fairy-tale figures in the forest, including Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Goldilocks, Rapunzel, Snow White and, of course, the Brothers Grimm, from whose book of the same opera title the libretto by Adelheid Wette was written.
The only slight disappointment was the conversion of the gingerbread children back to life in the third act, which was rather uninspiring and left a somewhat ‘bitter’ taste in the mouth – too much ginger perhaps. This followed a peculiar interpretation of the House of Sweets as Bates Motel in Hitchcock’s Psycho and a wholly underwhelming vat of chocolate into which the witch was pushed and killed.
It was quite an aggressive beginning. The father, sung by Eddie Wade in place of the indisposed James Rutherford, delivered a somewhat disciplined interpretation of his role, removing his belt in order to punish his children. The substantial voice of Michaela Schuster as the mother reacted aggressively to her children as they played, as she sent them out of their home and into the fearsome forest. In today’s time, these aggressive behaviours and actions seem somewhat out of place.
Both the children were creamily sung – despite the jug of cream being smashed in the first act. Both Hanna Hipp as Hansel and Jennifer Davis as Gretel matched their roles and vocal outputs splendidly, and were believable as the children.
Christina Gansch was a luxurious Dew Fairy, and the Jette Parker young singer Haegee Lee was a sweet voiced Sandman. The wonderful Gerhard Siegel was a somewhat overweight, cross-dressing Witch and perhaps will do more with the role as the run continues.
Musically, the evening was wonderfully controlled by the German conductor Sebastian Weigle who ensured that our ears and eyes were focused on the music and visuals, including some of the recognisable Wagnerian drum beats and music that littered the score.
As the children were lost in the woods, they were movingly protected by the Sandman and the Fairy, which provided sensitive safety reflection to all parents in the audience at this Christmas time.