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Hansel und Gretel: Opera in Three Acts cover photo

Hansel und Gretel: Opera in Three Acts 2008


Distributed by Films for the Humanities and Sciences
Producer n/a
Directed by Thomas Grimm
DVD, color, 88 min.

Jr. High - Adult
Music, Opera

Date Entered: 01/19/2011

Reviewed by Barbara J. Walter, Longmont Public Library, Longmont, CO

In its first-ever staging of Hansel und Gretel, the Glyndebourne Festival offers a fresh take on Engelbert Humperdinck’s operatic masterpiece. Stage director Laurent Pelly reframes the classic fairy tale to warn of the evils of materialism and exploitation of natural resources, but with a deft touch and a sense of humor.

Life appears bleak for gangly young Hansel (Jennifer Holloway) and the irrepressible Gretel (Adriana Kucerova). Home is an overturned cardboard box barely held together with packing tape, and their parents possess all the distinctiveness of trailer trash. Left alone, the youngsters devise silly games and songs to distract themselves from their chores, and their growling stomachs. Angered by their laziness, Mother (Irmgard Vilsmaier) orders them to search for berries in a blighted forest strewn with food wrappers and plastic bags—it’s hard to believe anything grows there. Father (Klaus Kuttler) returns from work a bit drunk but with plenty of food—and is shocked to hear Hansel and Gretel are wandering alone in the forest where the “nibbling witch” lives. Mother and Father rush off in search of their children.

Hansel and Gretel find—and soon devour—some berries, but become lost and must spend the night in the dreadful forest. Sandman (Amy Freston) arrives to usher them into the land of dreams, and after singing the exquisite “Abendsegen” the two peacefully fall asleep, guarded by angels. Awakened by the Dew Fairy (Malin Christensson), they find new hope and a delectable surprise: a witch’s house that seems lifted straight out of the candy and snack aisle of a retail warehouse club. Junk food proves to be irresistible bait. The witch (Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke), clad in bubble-gum pink wig, suit and heels, springs his/her trap: Gretel is enslaved, while Hansel is caged for fattening up prior to baking. But courage and quick thinking save the day—the witch bakes in her own oven, Hansel and Gretel are reunited with their parents, and many other children, fattened up (read made obese) on the witch’s unhealthy fare, are set free as well. Director Thomas Grimm provides better-than-front-row seats for a production blessed with top-notch vocal performances and a splendid interpretation by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Kazushi Ono. One quibble: the English translation of the libretto into rhyming couplets seems a half-hearted effort at modernizing the text, and becomes almost gibberish at several points. Recommended especially for music appreciation/history classes at high school and college levels as well as being appropriate for academic and public libraries.