Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921) Hänsel und Gretel - fairy-tale opera in three acts (1893)
Peter, a broom-maker - Adrian Eröd (baritone)
Gertrud, his wife - Janina Baechie (mezzo)
Hänsel, their son - Daniela Sindram (mezzo)
Gretel, their daughter - Ileana Tonca (soprano)
Witch - Michaela Schuster (mezzo)
Sandman - Annika Gerhards (soprano)
Children of the Opernschuler der Wiener Staatsoper
Students of the Ballettakademie der Wiener Staatsoper
Bühnenorchester der Wiener Staatsoper
Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper/Christian Thielemann
Stage Director - Adrian Noble
Set and Costume Designer - Anthony Ward
Lighting Designer - Jean Kalman
Video Designer - Andrzej Goulding
Choreographer - Denni Sayers
rec. live, Wiener Staatsoper, November 2015
Picture format: full HD 16.9, PCM Stereo, DTS-HD
Master Audio 5.1 EUROARTS 2072988 DVD [113:00]
This DVD shows the first appearance of the firm family favourite, Hansel and Gretel, at the Wiener Staatsoper since 1944.
It is an imaginative and inventive production. Staged by Adrian Noble, former Artistic Director of Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company, it includes an introductory section as the Overture proceeds that is set in Victorian London. There a family is enjoying a lantern slide show that opens a door to a strange fairy-tale world which the young son and daughter enter to become witnesses to the story of Hansel and Gretel. Mercifully, the sets are conventional: a barely equipped kitchen, home to Hansel and Gretel for Act I and a shifting shadowy forest made up of tree silhouettes for Act II. There's the Witch’s Ginger-Bread House and kitchen complete with massive oven for Act III. The lighting and costumes are splendid. Those for the Sandman and the Dew Fairy are sublime and quite, quite magical. The Witch with a large nose is bespectacled with a black tattered dress.
The generous 36-page accompanying booklet includes interviews with Adrian Noble and the conductor Christian Thielemann about the music and its obvious Wagnerian influences: Parsifal and Meistersinger according to Thielemann. Thielemann also discusses the challenges the score holds for the conductor and reminds us that Richard Strauss had conducted the world première before going on to discuss Richard Strauss’s comments about this opera.
Daniela Sindram and Ileana Tonca are convincing in their title roles particularly Sindram who is very boyish in attitude. Their Act I dance song is joyful with a subtle edge of desperation in their attempt at escapism from hunger pangs and unrelenting poverty. In Act II their ‘Evening Prayer’ duet is affecting although other duos have been more emotionally involving. Baechie comes across well as the desperate mother, fretful about the family’s plight and incensed when she discovers the children have not completed their broom-making work and have broken the milk jug. On the other hand Erőd, as the father, is in fine strong confident voice, when he returns home after mother has sent the children into the forest to pick strawberries. He has sold many brooms and is laden with food and drink. Only when he learns that the children have been sent out to a region near the Witch’s house is his demeanour shaken.
Annika Gerhards in the dual role of Sandman and Dew Fairy beguiles - a softly sylvan enchantment. Michaela Schuster invests just the right amount of menace so as not to frighten the children too much in her role as the Witch.
There are quite a number of competing DVDs of Hänsel and Gretel now. My first recommendation has to be the Metropolitan production with Frederica Von Stade and Judith Blegen staged on Christmas Day 1982 on DG DVD 0734348.
Nevertheless this is a noteworthy production and a confident recommendation.