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!