WORKS: Hänsel und Gretel
PERFORMER: Jennifer Holloway, Adriana Kucerová, Irmgard Vilsmaier, Klaus Kuttler, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Amy Freston, Malin Christensson; London PO/Kazushi Ono; dir. Thomas Grimm (Glyndebourne, 2008)
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 074 3361 (NTSC system; dts 5.0; 16:9 anamorphic)
As Rupert Christiansen points out in the booklet note, the defining Hänsels of the late 20th century were David Pountney’s 1950s-style ENO production and Richard Jones’s terrible-mouth nightmare, now available on a Met/EMI DVD with a superb cast.
Could Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne slant compare? I wasn’t sure at the end of Act I when I saw it live last summer. But the masterstroke which wins this show the memorable quality lacking in the indeterminate Royal Opera production (recently released on Opus Arte) is the witch’s supermarket house, brilliantly designed by Barbara de Limburg Stirum and brilliantly abetted by Wolfgang Ablinger-Speehacke’s horror in pink. Both funny and deeply disconcerting, his Hexe is the emblem of the production’s ability to say serious things lightly about the battle of consumerism versus nature. DVD confirms that his was one of 2008’s great performances.
Jennifer Holloway’s young-Harry Hänsel and Adriana KuΩerová’s Gretel – dazzlingly good in the solo at the beginning of Act II – manage to sing as they bounce to the LPO’s high-energy, beautifully textured playing under Kazushi Ono (the horns sound glorious in this acoustic). The grungy, careworn parents are fine Wagnerian soprano Irmgard Vilsmaier and Klaus Kuttler, a voice I’d love to hear in Lieder.
I even liked the dream-pantomime of white-clad children this time, knowing how it balances with the fat-suited nightmare of the witch’s liberated victims where laughter freezes to horror before turning to compassion. I’m less sure about the parcel-delivery to Glyndebourne’s stage door in the Overture – was this Pelly’s idea or film director Thomas Grimm’s? – but the bonus interviews, taking us through the show as extracts dovetail skilfully with conductor Ono’s music examples at the piano, are generous if rather obvious. David Nice