Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hansel und Gretel, Opera de Montreal

Loved it so much I saw it twice!

I've known Humperdinck's exquisite music since childhood, but had never seen Hansel and Gretel performed live on stage until last week.  This production is the latest triumph from Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal, and they staged it in collaboration with the National Theatre School of Canada and the National Circus School.

This is the best opera I have seen.  I suppose I was pre-conditioned to love it, since both the story and the music have always been a part of my life.  The production did impress me.  The staging,  the singing, the live music...all superb! 
Humperdinck's music is enchanting.  The visuals in this production, abstract.  Book pages and German words from the tale compose much of the scenery,  reminding one that the opera originated with a German text by the Brothers Grimm.  It was a real pleasure to hear the opera sung in its original language too.  I'm very happy for the translation provided on an unobtrusive screen above the stage.

The second time I saw it, I noticed how good the acting is in the production.  Gretel looked genuinely scared of the witch.  Hansel, played by a female (following the tradition of this opera, due to the mezzo-soprano voice required for the role) was a believably protective brother.  Also,  sitting close to the front, I noticed the mother froze just before the final curtain fell, holding a broom and giving a hysterical facial expression linking her with the witch.  Hilarious for those of us who noticed, but sad in that, perhaps the happy ending that Hansel and Gretel deserve after their heroism will not be achieved once they settle back into life at home.

Perhaps I went twice to see the ending of the second act another time. The scene in the forest, after the two children sing their evening prayer for angels to guard them while they sleep, was followed by one of the most beautiful spectacles I have ever seen on a stage. Acrobats from the National Circus School, dressed in white, gracefully descended from ladders and higher planes, twirling and defying gravity in slow motion, and gently placed the sleeping children on a white bedspread, eventually covering them with it under a twinkling sky.  Extraordinary!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A few of my favorite haunts...

This week marks the ten-year anniversary of my first horror-themed trip to the United Kingdom.  It was a Gothic romance tour for Valentine's Day.  I saw Whitby Abbey for the first time then.   The ruined structure and nearby graveyard inspired author Bram Stoker to write some beautifully frightening scenes in his novel Dracula.  

On the trail of Dracula at Whitby Abbey, England

I often travel to see locations made famous by legends, novels or movies I love, whether they be across the Atlantic in Europe, or closer to home in the United States.   This past summer, I took a boat tour on the infamous Loch Ness on a misty day, but the monster remained well hidden by the gloom.

In search of the elusive Monster of Loch Ness, Scotland 

During the same trip, I visited the restaurant in a building once owned by the man who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write his Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

A Jekyll and Hyde-like character once inhabited this building in Scotland

One site well-known to fans of the Nosferatu films is the salt warehouses in Luebek, Germany.  They harbored the evil Count Orlok as he fed upon an unsuspecting German city.  They look eerily similar to the way they did in the 1922 classic, except the windows are repaired. They now house a posh boutique.

These buildings in Lübeck, Germany harbored the plague-bearing vampire in Nosferatu

Farther south in Europe, one can follow in the footsteps of Hannibal Lecter, as he made Florence a temporary hide-out in the 2001 film, Hannibal. Even though the boar statue Il Porcellino plays a sinister thematic role in the film, it's actually a landmark beloved by tourists hoping for good luck, and I had to get up pretty early in the morning to get a photo alone with it.

The footsteps of Hannibal Lecter in his 2001 film led me to this much adored statue in Florence, Italy

One of my favorite spooky places, however, is much closer to where I live.  It's the churchyard at the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow.  Washington Irving wrote that the headless horseman begins his witching hour rides from this location in New York State.

Washington Irving wrote: The horseman "tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the churchyard" in Sleepy Hollow, New York, USA

Just feeling nostalgic for these lovely but foreboding places.  Safe travels everyone!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Joshua Bell to perform in Montreal


For those of you who have not yet seen this violin virtuoso play live, this is a great opportunity.  For those of yo who have already seen him, you may be tempted to go again.  Joshua Bell will perform at the Maison Symphonique de Montreal on Tuesday, February 25 at 8pm.

Joshua Bell is a Grammy Award-winning violinist and conductor whose work can be heard on many Sony Classical CDs, and movie soundtracks, including the hauntingly beautiful The Red Violin, which was made, in part, in Montreal.