Engelbert HumperdinckThe Met’s second high definition galaxy wide broadcast on New Year’s Day was Engelbert Humperdink’s Hansel and Gretel. This fairy tale opera has been very popular since its premiere in 1893. Why I can’t fathom. The work is both Wagner-lite and Grimm-lite. The music is pleasant enough, but nothing really memorable or very dramatic happens. The secret of its success may lie in its appeal to children – there’s got to be something musical and artsy we can take the tykes to that won’t have them rioting from boredom and which won’t make them and us deaf. Another reason for H & G’s success is that it’s short. Even so I nodded off a few times. I’ll have to add it to my list of operas that are safe to sleep through. That I was napping at the bargain price of $20 was soothing.

The cast was fine. The opera makes no great vocal demands on its singers. Hansel was mezzo Alice Coote. Gretel was sung by soprano Christine Schäfer. The opera was sung in an English translation by David Pountney that had a lot of clever rhymes. Ms Schäfer has a noticable German accent, but as this is a German story I guess that her accent adds some authenticity. There were English subtitles making everyone’s lines easy to understand. Veteran soprano, now once again mezzo-soprano, Rosalind Plowright was the kid’s Mom , Gertrud. I’m taking a liberty here; there are no Moms in Grimm. Tenor Paul Langridge got to dress up and be fat as the witch. He obviously had a good time with the role, but to my taste he didn’t do enough with it. I would have liked a little more camp. Vladimir Jurowski did as much as can be expected with a score that fades into the background. He was dressed like an Episcopal priest, which was eye catching . The Met orchestra (the men) wore dinner jackets for a 1 PM performance. I tried to call the fashion police, but the line was busy.

But this production is not about singing or acting or playing, it’s about food – a Weight Watchers nightmare. It should have been broadcast on the food channel. I think Emeril Lagasse directed under the nom de cuisine of Richard Jones. In the first act everybody was really hungry. They all looked remarkably well fed for people on the verge of starvation, though not all to the same degree. Hansel and Peter (Pop, baritone Alan Held) are well padded. I suspect they were stealing portions from Gertrud and Gretel. Perhaps the latter two were bulimic.

In the second act, instead of 14 angels we got 14 chefs; each looked like a cross between Paul Pruhomme and the Michelin Man. The 14 gordos served a sumptuous but illusionary banquet.


Act 3 had no gingerbread house, but a red flat from which protruded a big tongue on which was a very large chocolate layer cake. H & G stuffed their faces and we moved to the opera’s final scene. Here Langridge got to throw food in all directions making a big mess before being himself thrown into a super sized oven. The oven had a glass front from which the witch peered looking more like “That Doggy in the Window” than someone being basted alive. The curtain fell; everyone seemed happy and we got home in time to watch all the New Year’s Day football games.

The video direction was less frenetic than that of Romeo et Juliette. But here the close-up intruded. I could have forgone a tight shot of Ms Plowright barfing in the kitchen sink in act 1 after she heard that H & G were in danger of becoming snacks. Once again there weren’t enough programs

Macbeth is next.