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In Review > North America

Hansel and Gretel

NEW YORK CITY
The Metropolitan Opera
12/18/14

Richard Jones’s striking, imaginative production of Hansel and Gretel, first seen at the Met in 2007 and revived this season, contains unusual juxtapositions and seemingly opposing concepts that somehow add up to a cohesive, idiosyncratic vision.  Act I’s cottage is hyperrealistic in its drabness, yet it floats in the air, surrounded by darkness in the middle of the vast Met stage.  Act II’s setting — half formal dining room, half forest — is decidedly surreal even before the hypnotic dream sequence at the end that features a slow, graceful parade of fourteen Sendakian chefs, a fish headwaiter, and human-like trees in suits.  What’s a dream, and what (if anything) is real?  And in Act III, the Witch’s lair, instead of a gingerbread house, is a large industrial kitchen in a cinderblock warehouse.  Thus, an otherwise realistic setting becomes surreal in the way it plays against our expectations.  It also provides a distinctive brand of horror: when Gretel bangs on the corrugated metal door, begging for escape, it calls to mind something from one of the Saw movies, while, in eerie contrast, the orchestra obliviously continues playing Humperdinck’s rapturous score. 

As Hansel and Gretel (seen on Dec. 18, this season’s opening night), mezzo Christine Rice (in her Met debut) and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak (returning to the role) sang with warm, well-matched timbres; their duet passages were like an aural massage.  They also both displayed excellent physicality in the roles, with deft sibling-like touches such as Gretel kicking Hansel to wake him up.  Unfortunately, both the Polish-born Kurzak and the English-born Rice were difficult to understand, (the opera is sung in David Pountney’s English-language translation). The commanding entrance of Michaela Martens as Gertrude, the mother, offered a refreshing gust of intelligibility. Martens was stern and intimidating with her chore-shirking kids, then annoyed but grudgingly charmed by the winning and buoyant Dwayne Croft as her husband, returning home with lusty good cheer and hamming it up with his “Tra-la-la-la”s as if life itself were one great performance opportunity.

Robert Brubaker’s witch in drag was part Mrs. Doubtfire, part Julia Child, as he flung ingredients carelessly in all directions. The startling combination of Brubaker’s shining tenor and his dowdy appearance (his wig called to mind a silver Brillo pad) was an amusing source of cognitive dissonance throughout Act III. Similarly incongruous was Carolyn Sproule’s ghostly, gnome-like appearance as the Sandman, in conjunction with her serene and gleaming vocal tone. Ying Fang as the Dew Fairy, on the other hand, sang with a bright, sunny soprano that was perfect for wake-up music. The estimable Andrew Davis conducted the Met Orchestra with impressive shape and subtlety.  Most of the dance music was decidedly lacking in sprightliness, but he and the orchestra made up for it elsewhere with cascades of sheerly beautiful instrumental splendor. The superbly trained Met Children’s Chorus (Anthony Piccolo, Director) propelled a gratifying and heartwarming finale to this memorable and singular take on a well-loved classic. spacer 

JOSHUA ROSENBLUM

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