HANSEL AND GRETEL—THE OPERA
Hansel and Gretel is so many things. A folk tale adapted by the Grimm brothers, Englebert Humperdinck’s beloved opera, and even a 20th century novel of the nightmare of the Nazi era.
The Met Live In HD rebroadcast of its 2008 production puts this tale of these two hungry kids with sweet tooths lost in the dark woods into a different light.
Food is the theme for the three scenes set in three different kitchens.
The opener is the home of Hansel and Gretel, (Alice Coote and Christine Schäfer) and most appropriates for the folksy qualities of poor family (the father is a seller of brooms and brushes not a woodcutter). The “real” kitchen has been compared to the kitchen in the The Honeymooners, with the father Peter (Alan Held) most resembling a somewhat drunken Jackie Gleason, and the mother Gertrude (Rosalind Plowrights) like his bewildered wife Alice?
The dream in the forest scene features a fabulous kitchen — right out of a German Expressionist painting —where 14 cook (instead of those inspiring 14 angels) in totally weirdism costumes. A fish headed maitre d’ serves the two kids a lavish meal, beyond what they could imagine. (so was it really a dream?)
The final scene, is in a kitchen not be believed. Yes! the witch-Rosina Leckermaul "Raisin Sweet-tooth”— (Philip Langridge) has the best kitchen of all. A oven as large as an SUV, A walk in refrigerator. Pans are as huge, table long. Fantastical—this Theater of the Absurd—is absolutely believable for what will necessarily follow.
So many levels of meaning but the moral of this tale—what might that be?
For some, it is that the excesses of greed —hungry children desperate for only the sweet treats in life—which will only lead to doom.
For others, it is that power in cleverness in overcome the difficulties that result following these follies, by a technique of literally “fighting fire with fire.” That they will push the witch in to the oven she intended for them. (something they were able to achieve by using the formula hexes that she had employed in containing them.) …Is that the moral?—that we can overcome the bad results of our weak choices by cleverness with the aid of a few stock nonsensical phrases.
All this search for meanings, can lead to overlooking the music of this opera — how folk music (which is why Humperdinck’s sister wanted him to write an opera ) has been wrapped into lush Wagnerian orchestral pieces —all under the brilliant direction of Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski.
It’s debatable if Hansel and Gretel with all these grim themes really is for children. While productions can go in many directions, and the moral of the story might morph, this music that is centuries old, continues to put Hansel and Gretel on the top ten opera hit list for all ages.