Monday, December 22, 2008

Hansel and Gretel

We all know the Grimm version of the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel -- why we call most Grimm tales "fairy" tales is beyond me, very few have fairies. This one has a witch and the opera has angels, well, there's the Sandman and the Dew Fairy but those were not in the Grimm version. I'm cogitating on that because I saw the Humperdinck opera on film as it was done at Glynebourne last summer. And believe me it didn't look anything like the drawing pictured here.

I had in mind to go to a film of The Nutcracker from the Kirov Ballet at 3:00 in the afternoon, but then I was sewing and listening to a Messiah performance on the radio and suddenly I realized it was five of three. Not to worry, thought I, they're showing it next Sunday also. So I went to the grocery store and passed Symphony Space which is the venue and saw that they were showing the Hansel and Gretel in the evening. I think I've seen it once and heard it a jillion times. So why not see what they did at Glynebourne?

It was wonderful in a thoroughly modern-fun way. Firstly the voices were superb, especially the two leads who blended their sopranos magically over and over again. Everyone else was very fine also. The woman who sang Hansel was brilliantly made up as a boy and had all the right body language. The brilliant Gretel was the most incredible huge eyes, as well as a hyperkinetic manner that was delightful. Although one thinks of opera singers as being people of considerable ego, the "adults" were caricatures,looking anything but attractive. The Mother was a large, slovenly lady in a thoroughly unbecoming house dress and slacks; father a bit of a drunken sot looking disheveled and unshaven. But the witch! Oh my goodness! At first appearance a big, big man doing drag that would outdo Hairspray on B'way, and on second appearance he shed is pink wig and dress and flounced about in huge bra, low slung half slip below a very masculine and somewhat hairy beer belly, plus an open wrapper. No traditional witch there; one of the most amazing displays I've ever seen in opera.

It was a fortuitous choice, thoroughly entertaining and fun. A little girl, with her grandfather, perhaps 10 or 11, who had never seen an opera before was entranced even though she complained during the intermission that she was hungry and granddad offered to leave and take her for something to eat. She chose to stay and said she was glad she did. Opera on film will never be as wonderful as live -- but it is being filmed with great skill now and shown fairly widely and will make opera available to a new generation probably in very much the same way the Met Saturday broadcasts of the 1950s made it available to this once-upon-a-time little girl on a farm in Indiana.

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