Humperdinck, Hansel and Gretel. Metropolitan Opera, 12/16/2011. Production by Richard Jones (revival), English translation by David Pountney, conducted by Robin Ticciati with Aleksandra Kurzak (Gretel), Kate Lindsey (Hansel), Robert Brubaker (Witch), Michaela Martens (Mother), Dwayne Croft (Father).This production is well-known and already available on DVD but this was my first time seeing it so I’m going to describe it anyway. The Met performs this opera in David Pountney’s English translation. In lieu of photos of the current cast these ones show the 2009 cast--I will change this when I can.
Jones’s production starts off brutally realistic and gets increasingly surreal as the acts proceed. The whole thing is out of some mid-century British children’s novel that probably featured a character named Olive (also much detail about ration stamps and expecting extensive knowledge of outdated British coins--oh no, we’ve only a crown and sixpence remaining!). Each act takes place in a kitchen, representing the children's hunger. The first is the bare one of Hansel and Gretel’s parents, the second is the ghostly one of the forest (with the loud interior decoration that has led me to call this director Wallpaper Jones), and the third is the ghastly one of the Witch. The children dream not of angels but of chefs bringing extravagant food, and you get the sense that Jones’s heart isn’t really in the prayer at the end. Like today’s children, he would prefer to see them break off a leg from the baked-up Witch.
Purists may be offended by the lack of an actual gingerbread house, but in my opinion this is the kind of staging the Met needs more of in any repertory. It’s inventive, it's visually strong, it’s not too challenging, and it revives pretty well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wallpaper Jones is an old pro at opera staging, not a newcomer from another discipline. Not all his productions are successful (though even his semi-failures like the Munich Lohengrin are interesting), but his work here is so many miles ahead of any of the Met’s new productions this season it’s not even funny.
The vocal star of the evening was Aleksandra Kurzak as Gretel, singing with youthful, radiant tone and excellent musicianship. Her English enunciation was clear if not always quite correct (her vowels sometimes weren’t the right ones), and she managed to play the youthful stuff as cute without being cloying. Kate Lindsey’s Hansel was less interesting. She’s a very solid and reliable singer with a soprano-like mezzo, but I can’t help but find her bland and generic. Acting-wise, she’s obviously experienced playing boys but sometimes her dance-happy hyperactivity wasn’t quite in the style of the production--she got a lot of laughs, though.
Der König Kandaules at the Wiener Volksoper). He camped it up in fine style without quite stealing the show, and sang more pleasantly than you have any right to expect in this character role. Michaela Martens was a highlight as the Mother, her rich dramatic mezzo rather overqualified for such a short role. Dwayne Croft was less present as a character than the father could be--the most conspicuous sign of a toned-down revival, I suspect--but sang with bass-like resonance. The bit roles were strong, particularly Jennifer Johnson Cano as the Sandman.
It took me a few revivals to actually see this production. I generally avoid sites where children congregate en masse, and while they were generally well-behaved it was still chattier than normal. But I’m glad I finally did see it. More Richard Jones at the Met, please.
Performances continue through the holidays.
Trailer (different cast):