Hansel and Gretel, Humperdink’s charming, playful opera written as a Christmas treat has been given the ‘updating, innovative’ treatment by the COC. I am always a bit ambivalent about this updating thing. On the one hand, I agree one can not go on and on performing the same production year after year when we now have so much technology available to help along the magic. On the other hand, I have seen some absolutely terrible efforts at this, notably the unfortunately unforgettable Don Giovanni at the Salzburg Festival one year where the Don was shooting up in the park.
This production started out wonderfully, with huge graphics reminding me of the illustrations in the Le Petit Prince projected on the curtain—the world, beginning to zero in on north America, the great lakes and finally Toronto, gliding over the rooftops, then through the streets and at last showing the windows of an apartment house where showy people moved about. Magical. And then the curtain went up to show the two children, beautifully sung and acted by Emily Fons and Simone Osborne. The details of the clothing and kitchen were amazing, right down to the row o f friendship bracelets Gretel wore. So far so good.
But the set was on two levels and as the opera went on, people were moving around doing things which may or may not have been relevant. I just found this very distracting. Some of the effects were quite amazing as the children’s familiar world became a forest of evergreens harboring frightening things. The gingerbread house was …a tent made of sheets, I think, and the wonderful witch pranced about rather like a deranged drag queen (garnering much applause).
All in all, I think it was a great idea but became too fussy, busy with shadowy people, making me lose concentration as I tried to figure out what the heck the significance of their movements could possibly be. Of course the music was wonderful, a mixture a simple nursery rhymes and soaring wagnerian sections.
There were a lot of children there and I wondered what they might be making if it all.
Do I recommend it? Strangely, I do!