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Hansel And Gretel: Wiener Philharmoniker (Solti) [DVD]  [NTSC]
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Georg Solti conducts a cast including Brigitte Fassbaender, Edita Gruberova, Helga Dernesch, Enzo Prey and the Wiener Philharmoniker performing the Brothers' Grimm story of two children who get lost in the woods and foil the plans of a cannibalistic witch.
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It is important to realise, however, that this is a film version and not a performance recorded in an opera house. There are, of course, pros and cons with this approach. A major advantage is the total absence of audience noises and applause. There is also the opportunity for much better sets, seamless changes from scene to scene and the ability to use cinematic special effects. These are, of course, of the era (1981) and whilst nowhere near modern day standards the effects are generally good. The appearance of the guardian angels is particularly effective and touching. The soundtrack was recorded separately and the performers are lip-synching to the soundtrack as they act, but generally this is done very well and one is rarely aware of this fact whilst watching.
There are some flaws here. The appearance of the Dewfairy is very poorly done and the brief interlude with the Sandman is not a lot better. These are just visual defects, however, the musical contributions of both of these characters is very good. The other aspect that may put some people off is the fact that an attempt is made to portray this as a theatrical performance with an audience made up almost entirely of children. Generally this works quite well. We see the excited children arriving at the opera house, taking their seats and Sir Georg beginning to conduct the opera from the orchestra pit. The curtain then opens on a painted landscape and the performance cuts straight to the filmed set. Some people might, however, dislike the fact that occasionally (but not too often) the film cuts away from the action to show the children's reactions in the audience. Often this is charming but in a few places it does actually break the spell of the scene being played and it does detract slightly from the viewer's enjoyment.
The picture is in NTSC 4:3 format and the sound is PCM stereo or DTS 5.1. There are subtitles in German, English, French Spanish and Chinese.
During the overture the conductor and orchestra feature along with the assembling childrens audience.
The opening scene is in a woodland cottage where Gretel (Gruberova) and Hansel (Fassbaender) bicker and play. The singing is superb, the staging appears to be on location, or studio set.
Helga Dernesch has a good voice as mother, and shows her frustration with her naughty children, eventually sending themout to gather berries.
Herman Prey, a firm favourite of mine, throws throws himself into character, optimistic and happy until he finds where the children had gone.
The prelude to act 2 is an animated witches ride, intersperced with Mother and Father frantically searching.
Meanwhile in a forest clearing Hansel an Gretel are quite happy, but as night draws in they start to worry, but the beautiful voice of Norma Burrowes as Sandman lulls them to sleep.
The prelude to act 3 has a series of misty forest paintings, into them the 14 guardian angels slowly appear to watch over the sleeping pair.
With dawn the Dew Fairy appears in a dewdrop, the sweet voice of Elfriede Hobarth comes and goes far too quickly. Gretel wakes followed by Hansel, they welcome the morning and recall their dream.
A magic pathway appears in the forest lined with flowers and Gingerbread men and leading to the delicious cottage.
The witch opens the door and catches Hansel in a net. Sena Jurinac is in good voice, she does not ham the part up, but slowly increases her menace. Her appearance becomes more witchlike as the set changes to the cottage interior. Our crafty pair outwit the witch, and pop her in the oven.
Back in the garden the witches spell has been broken, the children are restored to life singing beautifully. Mother and Father appear and family are reunited, oh and the witch is now a cake.
The sound quality is excellent, the picture quality reasonable. The booklet gives a synopsis, timings and a brief writeup about the production and the participants.
This package is very well done, I find it most enjoyable and far better than the two stage productions that I own
Like someone else also commented, it is like throwing a bucket of cold water on your face from time to time when the going really gets good and dreamy.
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