LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: Hansel and Gretel
PERFORMER: Angelika Kirchschlager, Diana Damrau, Elizabeth Connell, Thomas Allen, Anja Silja; Royal Opera House Orchestra/Colin Davis; dir. Moshe Leiser & Patrice Caurier (London, 2008)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1011 D (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 anamorphic)
Humperdinck’s adorable opera here receives treatment so affectionate that the two children are more likely to be killed with kindness than by the Witch. Colin Davis, long an advocate of this work, takes it at reverently expansive tempos, and that does nothing to hide the longueurs of Act III, which is musically least interesting, and has a disproportionately lengthy scene with the Witch. There is a drastic change in the style of production, too.
Leiser and Caurier set Act I in the children’s small bedroom, and Act II in an ordinary wood. But Act III involves a huge icebox in which children the Witch has killed hang on meat hooks waiting for incineration. Here, the wrong kind of seriousness takes over, even with Anja Silja camping it up like mad with a Zimmer frame, and a wobble that is her most terrifying feature.
In the end she is eaten by the ‘redeemed’ children, which may show that they are just as horrible as she is; if it does, I’m sure Humperdinck would have been shocked.
The cast is strong, with Angelika Kirchschlager a much more credible boy than Diana Damrau is a girl – in close-up Kirchschlager still looks young and masculine, while Damrau is clearly an adult. Thomas Allen is a superb Father, and Elizabeth Connell equally good as Mother.
Nice to see, too, that these fairly old folks are still keen on groping one another. The Royal Opera orchestra covers itself
in glory, but there is an overall sense of languor. Michael Tanner