The Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday, January 8.
Such a weird opera. That’s inevitable, of course, given how creepy the fairy tale is, what with the aggravated parental abandonment and the grotesque cannibalistic witch, but still, Hansel and Gretel is such a weird opera. Even after the librettist cleaned up the story (the mother shoos her children outside, but she doesn’t actively seek to ditch them in the woods), we’re still left with the narcoleptic-pushing Sandman and the witch force-feeding Hansel before succumbing to a fiery end in the oven, her demise celebrated by a chorus of children who throng to devour her corpse, and all of it set to a Wagner-lite score. Weird.
But not without charm, I guess. Hansel and Gretel’s well-known evening prayer is lovely, and the less-familiar bits share that song’s tuneful appeal and lush harmonies. Composer Engelbert Humperdinck, a protégé of Wagner, uses intricate chromatics without ever becoming harshly dissonant, and if I can’t quite take his work seriously, that’s mainly because I can’t hear his name without thinking of Carol Kane shrieking at Billy Crystal. (The Princess Bride. Different Humperdinck. Not even remotely relevant.)