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Hänsel und Gretel
Teuscher, Coote, Vilsmaier; Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Dazeley; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ticciati. Libretto, translation. GFOCD 015-10 (2)
The Glyndebourne Festival releases another archival recording — hardly a "historic" release or one that fills a hole in the catalogue, since Humperdinck's ravishingly scored 1893 "fairy-tale opera" enjoys one of the richest discographies among German operas, with starrily cast studio releases under Karajan, Kurt Eichhorn, Solti and John Pritchard among the strongest competition. In this 2010 performance, the conducting of Robin Ticciati, the Festival's designated music director as of 2014 and something of a wunderkind, proves the best element: luminous, clean-textured and glowing, his reading is well captured by the engineers. Alice Coote (who rejoined Ticciati for some Hänsels when he made his Met debut in 2011) offers a boisterous, "theatrical" reading, her characterful mezzo more trenchant than she might have made it under studio conditions. Lydia Teuscher, though not exceptional and eschewing Act II's (optional) high D, brings idiomatic ease and a pleasant, fluty quality to Gretel's deceptively tough role.
Can we please return to Humperdinck's intended casting for the Witch, a dramatic mezzo? Of course, there's a long German tradition of deploying tenor Witches. (The Met used one as early as 1910, five years after Hänsel joined its repertory with the very persuasively female Louise Homer in the part.) British audiences seem to love drag shows, so Glyndebourne engaged Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, a bright-toned character tenor. A Loge as well as a Mime, he's capable of a genuinely accurate and clean approach to the notes, though he lacks a real trill, a distinct liability here. Ablinger-Sperrhacke has to "place" his highest notes (the sustained high B capping the ride suggests a dentist's drill) and adds too much cackling, evoking a Monostatos on laughing gas and pushing some notes unduly out of focus.
William Dazeley's acceptable but shallow-voiced performance answers the question of what to do with aging Guglielmos and Papagenos: don'tcast them as Peter, which needs more weight and solidity of tone. Irmgard Vilsmaier (Gertrud) does not wield an instrument of much inherent beauty, but she deals with the tough intervals cleanly and proves one of the part's better exponents on recordings. Tara Erraught (Sandman) and Ida Falk Winland (Dew Fairy) make little impression; previous studio recordings have had the luxury of presenting the likes of Lucia Popp, Arleen Auger, Kiri Te Kanawa and Edita Gruberová in these lovely cameos. In the final scene, Ticciati underplays the miraculously beautiful stop-time passage before the siblings undo the Witch's transformations. The children's chorus — unnamed on the CD packaging — is decent, but not outstanding.
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