Top positive review
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Excellent film version
on 12 May 2010
This is by any measure a great performance of Hansel and Gretel. The performers are almost without equal for this opera. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is absolutely outstanding and under the direction of Sir Georg Solti the music is both vibrant and beautiful. The singers are just wonderful, vocally of course, but also as actors. The main pairing of Gruberova and Fassbaender is really the dream team for this opera. Filmed in 1981 they are both young enough to take these parts, they are both in glorious voice and genuinely play the roles believably as children. All the other parts are taken by great singers. Hermann Prey is excellent as the father and its is wonderful to have Sena Jurinac as the Witch just a couple of years before her retirement from operatic performance.
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.