Richard Jones' production opened in 2007 to rave reviews. Jones uses dark colors throughout the production and rarely do we see anything bright or colorful. Rather than being a typical children's opera, Jones explores the dark side of the opera and returns to the Grim brothers roots. Jones sets each act of the opera in an increasingly larger and more threatening room. The first act is a cramped, meager kitchen in Hansel and Gretel's home. The second is a banquet hall with anthropomorphic trees and arboreal wallpaper replacing the traditional forest of the middle act The third act is a vast, gray cinderblock-and-metal factory dominated by an enormous, red-glowing oven for the witch's house, haunted by the spirits of dead children. Another element that is changed from the plot of the opera is the witch. Instead of being played by a mezzo soprano, a tenor plays the role adding an unsettling feel. While the production is dark as it suggests cannibalism, it still keeps elements of comedy and fantasy. There are fairy tale chefs that are represented with huge masked heads instead of fairies. However, in my opinion the previous traditional production which presented the opera as a fantastical story rather than a grim one was better suited for the holiday season and for children. This is a co-production with the Welsh National opera and the Lyric opera of Chicago. A DVD of the production is available on EMI Classics
Alice Coote and Kate Lindsey will share the role of Hansel. Alice Coote returns to the role that she created in 2007. Hailed for her Handel and Mozart, Coote has made Hansel a staple of her repertoire. She is able to portray Hansel with boyish mannerisms and sing with ardor. Kate Lindsey makes her met role debut as Hansel. She is already well known for playing pants roles especially for her role as Nickclause in L'Contes d'Hoffman, a role she has triumphed in recently at the Met. Lindsey has a lush mezzo soprano voice with great top notes and agility. Like Coote, she is a convincing in her acting.
Alexandra Kurzak returns to the Met after a highly disappointing Gilda in Rigoletto. Kurzak has an agile and sturdy voice that has tendencies of going sharp especially in her high notes. Since her Gilda, Kurzak's voice has grown in size, is no longer sweet and is much more darker. The result is a much more dramatic coloratura soprano. Even though all these changes having occurred, Kurzak is a convincing actress. I will never forget seeing her debut at the Met as Olympia. She was both sweet and charming as well as robotic and gave the impression of being a true doll. Kurzak should have no problem being a girl in the role of Gretel.
Robert Brubaker has the daunting challenge of surpassing Phillip Langridge's definitive interpretation of the witch. Langridge sang the role twice and caused a sensation because of his technical abilities and acting skills. Brubaker will have to match Langridge's legendary performance if he is to succeed this year in the role.
Families will most likely enjoy this opera as they have in the past. However if you are a hardcore opera fan, look somewhere else.