Humperdinck Hänsel und Gretel
This is a slightly peculiar release on Glyndebourne’s own label, since a DVD of the same production was issued three years ago (reviewed October 2009). Admittedly, most of the cast and the conductor have changed, but the most distinctive feature of the show, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s superbly sinister and hilarious Witch, remains on both, and he/she certainly demands to be seen as well as heard. So, too, does the whole production, with its vision of a world laid waste by consumerism, and the gingerbread house a grotesquely overstocked supermarket of appalling foods, not to mention the clinically obese children who come back to life in the final scene.
That said, this is still a wonderful recording, owing in particular to the conducting of Robin Ticciati. The list of major conductors who have recorded Hänsel und Gretel is impressive, but I think this is the finest musical account of all. Ticciati conducts on a grand scale, but with extraordinary attention to the detail of Humperdinck’s one masterwork. The Wagnerian references – Siegfried pervasively, but also Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and even Parsifal – are stressed, but that adds to the charm. The voices, appropriately, are far from Wagnerian in size, and each singer is fully in character, with mezzo-soprano Alice Coote as a plausible Hänsel. Despite the heroic efforts of all concerned, and notably Ablinger-Sperrhacke, the basic trouble with the opera remains its disproportionately long and musically inferior Act III. However, this just has to be accepted.