18 August 2010

Hansel und Gretel at Glyndebourne

Going to see Hansel and Gretel at Glyndebourne was a late decision spurred on by the availability of cheap (£30) seats for the under thirtys, making it five visits there this year.

Hansel and Gretel is, no surprised, very much based on the well-known fairy tale but is told using modern iconography.

This begins at the very start when we see that Hansel and Gretel live inside a large, and imaginatively designed, cardboard box.

The two leads soon impressed with convincing displays as children clearly some way below their actual ages as they squabble and tease each other.

The scene set, their parents come home and, finding that the children have not done any of their chores (no news there then), and send them in to the woods, and we all know what is coming next. Or rather we think we do but, sadly, the trail of breadcrumbs is missing and we get faeries to the rescue, not the woodland animals.

With these two changes to the familiar story the middle section lacks a sparkle.

The opera picks up when Hansel and Gretel reach the witch's cottage fashioned to look like a supermarket complete with tempting 100% off signs.

The cottage also transform like, er, Transformers, with the shelves moving around to create doors, steps and even a check-out.

The opera then sinks miserably never to recover.

The witch, when she finally appears, is played by a man in the idiom of a pantomime dame. It's all rather silly and while it may have suited an audience of sticky-fingered children at a pantomime it is unusual fare for an opera audience freshly returned from their champagne picnics.

I was hoping for something dark and with real menace (like in Turn of the Screw) but instead I got frivolity and froth. This was even carried through to the applause at the end when the singer playing the witch received ritualistic boos.

The opera is slight musically with no memorable tunes and no memorable songs. It bumbles along pleasantly enough but never stirs the soul. With this scant base to work with the opera needed a powerful interpretation but it did not get this.

Only the two main sets, the cardboard house and the supermarket cottage, lifted the evening out of mediocrity, but not by very much.

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