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This review is from: Humperdinck: Konigskinder [Blu-ray]  (Blu-ray)
Engelbert Humperdinck seems to have 'had it in' for witches: this is his second opera featuring a villainous witch. One can only assume that here we have yet another example of the hangover from the medieval persecution of witches, which, in itself, is related to an inborn religious prejudice against women who are blamed for the fall of mankind. Although it's easy to see why he would have based an opera on a well known fairy tale such as Hansel and Gretel, why did he decide to revisit the witch genre? Could his decision to do so be one of the various reasons why Konigskinder has never become as popular as Hansel and Gretel? People may be forgiven for supposing this opera to be no more than a rehash of the witch job and, to a certain extent, they would be right to think so.
Then again, we have the children, doing their bit in this work, if less prominently, than in Hansel and Gretel. Bearing all this in mind, this opera can be seen as a depiction of the conflict of the purity of childlike innocence against the sophistication of adult avarice. The natural meeting of minds between the lead characters, Konigssohn and Gansemagd, that fosters their love for each other is disparaged and cast aside by the unimaginative and insensitive attitude of the worldly-wise masses. Only the uncorrupted minds of the children are open to the truth and beauty involved in the relationship between these two leading characters. In this scenario the witch epitomises the latent viciousness present within the human psyche waiting to burst out upon anyone who is perceived as not fitting in with the status quo.
I wonder if Humperdinck is telling us: whereas Hansel and Gretel is a fairy tale with the traditional happy ending, Konigskinder is a fairy tale about how things actually are? The wonderful world of the imagination is kids' stuff and woe betide anyone who tries to carry this concept into adulthood. In its straightforward, simplistic staging, which does not detract from either action or singing, this brilliant Zurich Operahaus production concentrates the mind on the singing and performance of the actors, all of whom give first-rate performances. Although the opera suggests we are in yet another fairy tale world, it's nevertheless also a world of ultra-realism that encourages the feeling in the watcher-listener that it's very like something he/she might well have experienced or one day will experience.
It would be hard to fault the performance of either the orchestra or chorus of the Operhaus Zurich and the singer-actors were all well chosen for their roles. All told this is a very watch-able opera performed in a forthright style. As I see it, Humperdinck had the skill of being able to fit his music to every nuance of human behaviour. The viewer-listener is able to relate to each of the characters as if they were real people. 'I know/knew someone just like that,' we can say to ourselves as we watch and listen. Then again, the children remind us of both our own childhoods and those of children we know. Or, perhaps, I should re-phrase that as: 'remind us of childhood as it was before the advent of the cyber age.' This has to rank among the most inspiring and thought-provoking operatic performances ever staged anywhere. Well done!