This Hänsel und Gretel might not be a totally
satisfying experience for the ear, but it is certainly a visual treat.
The imaginative and colourful production is clearly aimed at entrancing
a young audience. The camera lingers over the many children in the audience
before the curtain goes up; and the production seeks to hold their attention
at every turn. The animated children’s chorus, for instance, is brought
to the front of the stage to look at the orchestra as they play the
Overture. The lighting, the sets and scenery are all calculated to fill
the little ones with awe and wonder and are just frightening enough.
The design of the animated witch’s house, made of cakes and sweetmeats,
and pear-like nose and moving raspberry eyes is very imaginative. The
witch is more of a pantomime figure and hardly sinister and the antics
of her cats beguile.
Nikiteanu and Hartelius as Hänsel and Gretel are
lively and unaffected and their well-known opening folk song-like duet
is charming enough but I was disappointed that their prayer and its
preceding Sandman’s aria failed to move me. Volker Vogel, in a misguided
experiment to give the role of the witch to a tenor voice, is miscast
and not spiteful or menacing enough. Alfred Muff and Gabriele Lechner
are well cast as the parents, Muff particularly effective as the jollier,
irresponsible yet more concerned father.
This imaginative production has plenty to appeal to
children. But for the most musical versions turn to those on CD: preferably
Larmore/Ziesak/Schwarz/Behrens on Teldec, or Von Otter/Bonney/Lipovsek/Tate
on EMI, if you want a modern recording; or the classic Karajan set with
Schwarzkopf and Grümmer, an EMI ‘Great Recordings of the Century’