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Humperdinck: Hansel & Gretel / Davis, Damrau, Allen, Silja

Humperdinck / Davis / Damrau / Connell / Allen
Release Date: 07/28/2009 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 1011  
Composer:  Engelbert Humperdinck
Performer:  Angelika KirchschlagerElizabeth ConnellDiana DamrauAnja Silja,   ... 
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden OrchestraTiffin Children's Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Set (by Christian Fenouillat) and costumed (by Agostino Cavalca) in the recent past (the 1970s or '80s), Covent Garden's new production of this opera contains the requisite wit, charm, and ghastliness to make it work wonderfully. The first act is set in the kids' small, crooked bedroom; there's barely any room for them to romp and their boredom is understandable. The dance is well done, with Gretel gazing at a photo of a ballerina to imitate and Hansel more rambunctious. The next scene's forest setting is very effective, with projections and lighting adding to the children's sense of dread.

The Yoda-like Sandman in a white suit is adorable, and the dream sequence, in which forest
Read more animals--big and gentle--turn the darkening woods into a comfy living room with a fireplace and armchairs, is lovely and touching, with a wistful moment at the end when the children each unwrap a big gift box and find a half sandwich inside, which they proceed to eat. The Dew Fairy looks vaguely like Glenda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

Once we enter the Witch's kitchen, a tingle goes up the spine. In addition to a very long table, center stage, there are two huge ovens on the right, and at the back of the stage, a huge, glass-doored freezer filled with hanging children. During her ride, she takes one of the kids down, plops him onto her table, slathers him with cream and pops him into the oven. Creepy. At the finale, when the gingerbread kids come back to life and Peter and Gertrude enter, they pull the witch out of the oven and eat her. Hansel and Gretel do not take part--they cower. And can you blame them? It's even creepier--and very effective. Kudos to directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier for creativity and knowing when sentimentality isn't called for.

Musically the performance is just as interesting. Colin Davis manages to lead a production both luxuriant and perky without sacrificing either. He sweeps through the high-Romantic moments and dances through the others; the strange sounds in the forest that spook the kids are indeed spooky.

Starting at the bottom of the voice range we find Thomas Allen's Father, who is so fine an artist--and just a bit drunk as he enters--that for once his "Tra la la la" doesn't seem to go on too long. Elizabeth Connell's Gertrude is grandly formed--she's a big woman with a big voice--and she has great feeling. Angelika Kirchschlager's Hansel is among the best I've heard and seen: wearing overalls and sporting a spiky haircut, we get the ideal of the bored boy, naughty, wanting to be more grown-up, and singing beautifully. Diana Damrau, a plain-Jane Gretel with awkward pigtails, gets along famously with her brother, dancing, playing, being huffy. They work well off one another and their voices blend beautifully. The Sandman and Dew Fairy are lovely.

What can one say about Anja Silja's Witch? Grotesque--she's first seen with her large, prosthetic breasts hanging out, but buttons herself up once she meets the children--and perhaps once elegant but now falling to pieces (think: Grey Gardens), going through her child-murdering routine as if it were another day at the job, her sinisterness all the more potent for lack of trying. The voice is in tatters but you won't mind; this is what witches sound like, you'll think.

This is now the preferred version on DVD: The old Met one with Blegen and Stade is excellent but very traditional; the new Met one with Alice Coote under Vladimir Jurowski sounds wonderful but is sour and wrong-headed directorially; the Solti-led film from 1981 stars the spectacular Gruberova and Fassbaender but is sonically dated. You'll love this new set.

--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com

Diana Damrau and Angelika Kirchschlager star in the acclaimed 2008 production of Humperdinck’s famous fairytale opera, in the company of two of Britain’s most revered musical figures: Thomas Allen, playing the role of the Father, and the legendary conductor Colin Davis. Directors Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser combine their characteristic wit and a dash of deliciously dark comedy with the opera’s fairytale charm. Humperdinck’s music mixes catchy folk-like songs with sumptuous instrumental colour, making the result as tunefully approachable, musically memorable and visually delightful as opera gets. Filmed in High Definition and recorded in full Surround Sound.

Hansel: Angelika Kirchschlager
Gretel: Diana Damrau
Gertrud: Elizabeth Connell
Peter: Thomas Allen
Witch: Anja Silja
Sand man: Pumeza Matshikiza
Dew Fairy: Anita Watson

Tiffin Boys’ Choir and Children’s Chorus
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Conductor: Colin Davis
Stage Directors: Moshe Leiser & Patrice Caurier

Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, on 12th and 16th December 2008.

Illustrated synopsis & animated cast gallery.
Interview with Colin Davis.
Fairytales feature.
Cinema trailer.

‘Angelika Kirchschlager’s tousled, boyish Hänsel and Diana Damrau’s Gretel are dramatically convincing and vocally superb, while their parents, excellently sung and played by Elizabeth Connell and Thomas Allen, earn our sympathy as well as our censure. Pumeza Matshikiza’s goblin-like Sandman is truly magical and Anita Watson’s feather-dusting Dew Fairy another amusing creation. Colin Davis, unafraid to relish the icing on the cake, draws a warm, effulgent sound from the orchestra.’ Evening Standard

REGIONS: All Regions
LENGTH: 138 Mins
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Works on This Recording

Hänsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck
Performer:  Angelika Kirchschlager (Mezzo Soprano), Elizabeth Connell (Soprano), Diana Damrau (Soprano),
Anja Silja (Soprano), Thomas Allen (Baritone), Pumeza Matshikiza (Soprano),
Anita Watson (Voice)
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,  Tiffin Children's Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; Germany 

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