Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Hänsel und Gretel @ Royal Opera House, London

11, 21, 28, 30 December 2008, 1 January 2009

Hänsel und Gretel

Hänsel und Gretel (Photo: Bill Cooper)

The Royal Opera’s Cast B delivers a stirring performance of Humperdinck’s opera in Caurier and Leiser’s dark and unnerving production. Danger lurks under the surface throughout their staging but manifests itself in a harrowing, gruesome yet wonderful last act.

I’m in no position to say whether small children might need counselling after sitting through a performance of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s dark and dangerous production of Hänsel und Gretel, but anyone expecting a jolly Christmas Panto down in Bow Street this year is in for a bit of a shock.

In an age when mothers kidnap their own children, I guess a saccharine staging is out of the question but I concur with everything my esteemed colleague said in his review – although I must confess that I really revelled in the horror of the second act and it certainly kept the kids in the audience quiet.

Not having seen Cast A, it’s impossible to say how Cast B was different, but judged on its own merits it’s hard to imagine this cast being bettered. Although it seems invidious to single out one performer from such a tightly-knit ensemble both the vocal and acting laurels must go to Alice Coote’s wonderfully sung and brilliantly observed performance as Hänsel.

She embodied the petulant boy’s character to a fault and her glorious mezzo voice has never sounded better. By her side Camilla Tilling’s Gretel seemed a little underpowered at first but she relaxed into the role as the evening progressed.

As their self-obsessed (and randy) parents Irmgard Vilsmaier and Eike Wilm Schulte were both outstanding on every level. Vilsmaier was making her house debut and gave notice of an exciting dramatic soprano – let’s hope she’s invited back soon, especially in the Wagner repertoire. Shulte was a perfect foil for such a domineering character and really sang the role as opposed to barking it.

Mezzo Ann Murray, who is now making a speciality out of a variety of character roles, delivered a brilliantly sung account of the Witch, but her characterisation was more dotty old lady than Myra Hindley-terrifying but she still sent shivers down the spine as she threw a child’s corpse into the industrial oven. I said it was dark!

Robert Ticciati was making his conducting debut at the Royal Opera at the tender age of twenty-five but belied his years with a seriously minded, wonderfully full-blooded account of the work. The orchestra responded with glorious playing which attained Wagnerian splendour in places. A great night but not necessarily for kids, or maybe grown-ups, of a nervous disposition.

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