Today, as a treat, I drove my son nearly two hours out into the middle of nowhere. The goal was to see Richard Jones staging of Hansel and Gretel for the Metropolitan Opera. This was not live by any means. Instead, it was a film of that production. The trip was nearly ruined due to my iphones directing us to a street of the same name in another town. This caused us to arrive fifteen minutes into the film, but I was determined to see this production. My son was less determined but mostly went along with the plan. What we saw was unexpected and mostly entertaining.

First, I must admit that Opera is not always a good choice for small children. This Opera was sung in English, but the voicing made it difficult to understand the words. I could read the subtitles flashing across the bottom of the screen, but my son did not have this benefit. Second, the contemporary and revisionist staging employed by contemporary, high-brow set designers can be confusing to children. This is an understatement. Hansel and Gretel’s home was a minimalist apartment splashed in shade’s of grey. An empty refrigerator was all that really evoked the hunger of the traditional story. The “woods” in which Hansel and Gretel became lost was yet another obvious room with woodland themed wallpaper and dark trim. Curiously, a very long table split the stage in half and it’s raison d’etre only became obvious during a dream sequence. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Witch’s “House.” There was absolutely NO gingerbread house. Contemporary, avant garde, revisionist or not, there needs to be a gingerbread house. It’s just not the same without it. In it’s place, to really confuse matters was a floor to ceiling painting. It was nearly all red with lips and exposed teeth painted on it. This was essentially a wide open mouth through which a giant tongue came to protrude. On that tongue was a ridiculously large cake. This certainly can’t be making sense to any reader. However, the set was basically a wall with a giant mouth sticking out its tongue with a cake poised on it. Hansel and Gretel couldn’t help but notice this and began to devour the cake while someone off-stage complained about “nibbling” on her house. LOL. Truly not right. About the only thing that would make sense from a child’s perspective was the final “Witch’s Kitchen.” That was a properly constructed kitchen fit for a witch.

Finally, two things really made this production shine in the end. First, the characters were marvelous. The modern parents were a bore. However, the sandman and the “creep-tree” type creatures inhabiting the forest were fantastic. A group of chefs and a fish-headed butler that inhabited a dream sequence were stellar. The witch just stole the whole show. The witch was a gentleman in drag and possible in a fat suit. He was very Monty Python and gave the production the color it needed to end with a bang. Second, food or lack thereof was the central theme of this staging, and the last seen was a veritable food fight and/or food orgy. The characters were literally covered in food, fighting with food and spitting out food left and right. They were absolutely filthy and some of the food gags were revolting. Nevertheless, it was hysterically funny.

If one could see this production live, I would definitely recommend it. The film version is a toss-up. The presence of “making of” scenes interspersed between acts detracted from the magic and showed aspects of the production that would be of no interest to many children. It may be best to leave this for adults or older children who are more experienced with Opera stagings.

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