I’ve been skeptical about self-driving cars, but last Saturday, instead of driving me to the hike I’d planned, my car somehow found it’s way to the Cinemark at Valley View just in time for the Met’s special “holiday” encore presentation in HD of it’s 2008 production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. The opera was well done–delightful even–but other than scenes of children stuffing themselves with sweet baked goods, I’m not sure what makes this opera holiday fare. Here are five thoughts I had while watching Hansel and Gretel in HD:
- Suspending my disbelief. As so often happens for me–I assume at least in part because it takes a while to pull my mind out of the outside world and into the world of the opera (although Mozart can win me over in a few notes at the opening of Il Nozze di Figaro) the first half was a little bit slow going, and there were some lulls, long stretches of pleasant enough singing that simply wasn’t moving the story along in any way. But once the hungry children find themselves out front of the irresistibly yummy house made of sweets, the pace picks up and doesn’t let up until the witch is dead. Oops–spoiler!
- It’s really creepy. I’m really not sure why it’s billed as holiday fare, or for that matter, as appropriate for kids. Sure, the good guys win in the end, but at it’s heart, the opera is a a messy, chilling reflection on child abuse, deprivation, and predation. I remember a Cornell professor who had survived the Holocaust explaining that fairy tales weren’t meant to entertain children but to teach lessons about some of life’s scariest stuff in a way that kids could get it. Maybe that’s true here. Either way, bass-baritone Alan Held gave an amazingly creepy performance as the witch.
- Awesome tag-team in lead roles. Alice Coote and Christine Schäfer are brilliant and worked brilliantly together, surprisingly convincing as young kids–a wonderful tag-team carrying the storyline on their backs.
- In and out in two hours. The screening started at 12:55, and I was in my car by 3 PM. I appreciate a lot of the behind the scenes interviews that have become the hallmark of the Met in HD live presentations, but as I mostly attend the Wednesday evening encores, I’d welcome some trimming back of the intermissions.
- Children’s chorus. The children’s chorus at the end was very affecting. The chorus including Renée Fleming’s daughter (as the proud mama shared in introducing the piece for cinema audiences). Reinforced for me how much I’d love to see Scott Little, my composing partner on “The Story of an Hour,” use a multi-age chorus of female voices to manifest Louise’s dream of a freer, fuller life.