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|Anita Watson||Dew Fairy|
|Sir Colin Davis||Conductor|
|Agostino Cavalca||Costumes/Costume Designer|
|Simon Toyne||Musical Direction/Supervision|
Posted October 1, 2010
Everyone knows this story. Two poor hungry children are sent out into the woods to pick berries and find themselves captured by a witch whose house is made of gingerbread and sweets. She wants to eat them. Depending on the version you've read, either the witch gets her way, or she gets cooked in her own oven. This Humperdinck opera follows the latter interpretation, and in some ways that seems a shame, because it's hard to take the creepiness of the witch as seriously when she's so flatly dumb about what's happening. You can't help but wonder how this witch found a child she COULD trick? Enough about the plot.
This is, honestly, a great production. The score is moving and beautiful, and it is masterfully performed here. The audio clearly benefits from the Blu-ray format. All of the performers did admirable jobs singing their parts, but standing out above and beyond all others were Diana Damrau (as Gretel) and Thomas Allen (as Father). Allen's performance is boomy and believable as the carefree, drunken Father who comes home to find his children sent out by the rather spiteful Mother into the (apparently dangerous) woods. You can't help but wonder why Mother and Father had never discussed the fact that a witch who eats children lives in the woods outside their house...you'd think that would have come up at some point.
Anyway, Damrau's performance of Gretel is inspiring. You can't exactly say she "stole the show" as it is pretty much the lead role, but her beautiful voice and the whimsical sparkling in her eye really put Hansel's character firmly out of your mind when she's singing. You almost forget its in German and you're reading everything!
When the witch finally shows up, she is wearing a sweater with the top and bottom buttons fastened, and the rest of them undone, completely exposing her strangely-painted breasts in a very strange (and apparently pointless) way. I guess when witches are wandering around in the woods, they like to feel at one with nature. Without getting cold shoulders.
When the scene shifts into her gingerbread house, she trades in the exposed nipples for a walker. Yes, a walker. The little metal frames with two wheels that old people use to get around more easily. This is just one of a bizarre string of production decisions that were taken to bring a modern-day mentality to a very old story. Other examples include the occasional "all stars" t-shirt, or plastic bag from a grocery store. Sometimes these choices were funny and clever. The walker was just there to be weird.
I should probably say something about the picture quality, as this is a Blu-ray release. In a word: Fantastic. The cameras are not afraid to get close to the performers, and with so many wonderful expressions coming from Damrau throughout the performance, this is most definitely a good thing. You can really connect with the childrens' playful spirits and get lost in their play. The set design is somewhat unique, although I can't really say that there seemed to be any reason for the uniqueness. Why make the walls in the bedroom crooked? Not for children, even aside from the exposed boobs. There are some really dark moments at the end that are perfectly valid story elements, but still not something I would want my kids to see portrayed so graphically.
In short: Worth it for Diana Damrau's performance, the Blu-ray visuals, and the score.
Posted November 21, 2009
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