Theater Reviews



Metropolitan Opera, New York
Through Jan. 31

The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm are meant to be dark and disturbing, but the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" is probably not what the boys had in mind.

This food-centered version of the tale features, among other things, a pill-popping, suicidal mother, a neglectful father and cannibalism. Meant as holiday family entertainment, the show probably will be most popular among children's therapists.

Staged by British director Richard Jones, this production has previously been presented to great acclaim at the Welsh National Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. But the import betrays overthinking on the part of its creators, who have embellished it with far too many bizarre psychological and design aspects.

For instance, each of the work's three acts is supposedly presented in a different theatrical style, inspired in turn by D.H. Lawrence, German Expressionism and the Theater of the Absurd. The distinctions surely will be lost upon younger audience members, who will be similarly indifferent to the fact that each section takes place in a kitchen or dining room.

The performers handle their stylized roles with relish, if not, unfortunately, clear diction. This proves a particular problem considering the many young people in attendance, since they are forced to read the English titles to have any clue as to what is going on.

Alice Coote and Christine Schaefer are great fun in the titular roles, while Rosalind Plowright delivers an impressively intense turn as the troubled mother. As the father, Alan Held gives the best vocal performance of the evening, commanding the huge room with his powerful baritone. And a cross-dressing, grotesquely made-up Philip Langridge is a delight as the ill-fated Witch.

There are indeed many interesting visual aspects of the production: giant-headed chefs who serve a lavish meal to Hansel and Gretel; a fish-headed, tuxedoed waiter; and a giant industrial oven in which the Witch meets her fate. Humperdinck's Wagner-colored music is well handled by the orchestra and expertly conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.

Presented by the Metropolitan Opera
Music: Engelbert Humperdinck
Libretto: Adelheid Wette
Translation: David Pountney
Director: Richard Jones
Set/costume designer: John Macfarlane
Lighting designer: Jennifer Tipton
Choreographer: Linda Dobell
Gretel: Christine Schaefer
Hansel: Alice Coote
Gertrude: Rosalind Plowright
Peter: Alan Held
The Sandman: Sasha Gooke
The Dew Fairy: Lisette Oropesa
The Witch: Philip Langridge