12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel [DVD]   (DVD)
My heart sank when I saw that the BBC had chosen this production for its Christmas Day dose of culture. I love the opera but this production had been indifferently reviewed and its directors, Patrice Caurier & Moshe Leiser, can produce cheap and nasty work.
Well they didn't break the bank in this production but, to my surprise it is very effective and imaginative. It helps to have it in German and it helps to have two excellent interpreters of the title roles. Angelica Kirchschlager and Diana Damrau are convincing as brother and sister and look the part with the willowy Kirchschlager, in particular looking very boyish. The scene with the parents can be a bit anticlimactic but not in this production with veterans Thomas Allen and Elizabeth Connell giving a master class in how to act in opera. I particularly liked Allen's drunken wooing of his wife. Anja Silja as the witch makes the action more dark and frightening than in the recent production that I saw from the Met with Philip Langridge in the role. Having a woman rather than a pantomime dame in the part makes everything more serious.
This is an opera all about food and hunger, (the recent Glyndebourne production was set in a supermarket). Pat and Mo imaginatively restage the dream banquet as a Christmas scene with the parents handing Hansel and Gretel two large, shiny presents. They open the boxes and remove layer upon layer of wrapping until they arrive at half a sandwich each. Far from being disappointed, they are delighted with their gifts and eat them slowly and with relish. Pat and Mo's cheapskate tendency is seen amusingly in the scene with the gingerbread house. Instead of a full-size house the children find a cake in the shape of a doll's house. Not only does it save money but this scene actually works as the children devour the cake.
The final scene, in the witch's house is also very effective and, I imagine, quite frightening for its target audience, with children hanging in a larder and being brought out to be cast into a huge oven to be baked into gingerbread. Fortunately, it would require a very precocious seven year-old to go to the Royal Opera House to see an opera in German and the audience, which seemed to consist entirely of adults, enjoyed it immensely.