By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this opera can be streamed from www.metopera.org.
Wednesday, June 10
Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel ~ 2 HRS 00 MIN
Conducted by Vladimir Jurowski; starring Christine Schäfer, Alice Coote, Rosalind Plowright, Philip Langridge, and Alan Held. Transmitted live on January 1, 2008.
Richard Jones’s deliciously deranged production supports the somewhat macabre sensibilities of the original story by the Brothers Grimm – and adds some slapstick of its own! Tonight’s performance presents the Met’s popular ‘family-friendly’ version of the opera, which is abridged and sung in English, but still serves up much of Humperdinck’s luscious music – combining lyrical, folk-inspired melodies with stirring symphonic grandeur. Alice Coote stars as Hansel (we’ve seen her in another trouser role in Idomeneo and as a woman in love in Exterminating Angel) and Christine Schäfer is Gretel – the well-known siblings who become lost in the woods, encounter a Sandman and a Dew Fairy, and battle a ravenous Witch—here, a zany ‘reverse’ trouser role (skirt role?) – portrayed by tenor Philip Langridge. The wonderful Met orchestra, under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski, delights in the folk-inspired score.
The story is familiar – two hungry children of a poor broom-maker in medieval Germany – Hansel and Gretel are left alone at home to do chores, but they are hungry and bored. Gretel sings a happy little ditty, “Suse, liebe Suse, was raschelt im Stroh?” (Suse, dear Suse, what is rustling in the straw?), and then shows Hansel the pitcher of milk a neighbor has left them for supper. They dance in happy anticipation of the rice pudding Gretel will make. Gertrud, their tired mother enters to find them dancing and scolds them for not working. As she threatens to beat them she accidently knocks over the precious milk and in a fury sends them out to pick strawberries.
Peter, their father returns home – drunk – and he too is scolded by Gertrud. He surprises her with food in his pack because he was able to sell all his brooms and as they celebrate, he asks where the children are “Doch halt, wo bleiben die Kinder?” (But wait, where are the children?). She tells him the story and he becomes anxious, saying the forest is the home of the evil Gingerbread Witch -(literally, the “Nibbling Witch”). The witch lures children with cakes and sweets, pushes them into her oven to turn them to gingerbread, and eats them. Peter and Gertrud rush into the forest to search for the children.
In the woods, the children lose their way and sit down to eat a few strawberries. Soon they have eaten them all and when they try to look for more they realize that it is getting dark and they are lost and tired. The Sandman appears and sprinkles the children’s eyes “Der kleine Sandmann bin ich” (I am the little Sandman). We hear their famous “Abends will ich schlafen gehn,” (I want to go to sleep in the evening, fourteen angels stay with me). Of course, they dream – and here the 14 angels are 14 comically enlarged chefs, a fish-headed table waiter, and real food. After the children have stuffed their mouths with sweets the scene degenerates into the most epic food fight the Met stage has ever seen.
In the morning, they are awakened by the Dew Fairy and of course discover the witch’s house. This is a wonderfully imaginative place – entertaining for children and adults as well. There is the “Hexenritt” – the frenetic “Witch’s Ride” which is just a kick, and all the shenanigans that go along with tricking the witch into leaning over her own oven and being pushed in – causing a tremendous explosion. All the gingerbread children are restored to life —- and they all live happily ever after!
I definitely recommend this imaginative production – it’s just plain fun – with lots of familiar tuneful melodies for the whole family…
1. Christine Schäfer as Gretel and Alice Coote as Hänsel in ‘Hänsel and Gretel’ at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
2. Christine Schäfer as Gretel and Alice Coote as Hänsel in ‘Hänsel and Gretel’ at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
3. Christine Schäfer as Gretel and Alice Coote as Hänsel in ‘Hänsel and Gretel’ at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
4. Philip Langridge as the Witch in ‘Hänsel and Gretel’ at the Met. Photographed by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.