A colorful, campy version of Humperdinck's tuneful opera from the Brothers Grimm tale, this 1994 Australian Opera production's best assets are its title characters and villainous witch. Both Suzanne Johnston (Hansel) and... more » Christine Douglas (Gretel) perfectly exude the young impishness of the siblings who get lost in the woods and nearly pay with their lives, and Margaret Haggart brings down the house as the witch who finds herself baking in her own oven. Stage director Elijah Moshinsky, never a traditionalist, gives this Hansel a modernist slant that becomes absurdly silly whenever shown in close-up by video director Virginia Lumsden. Johannes Fritzsch leads the Australian Opera Orchestra in a notable account of Humperdinck's ingratiating score. Technical quibble: the opera is sung in English (with no subtitles), which, because of poor diction, is sometimes unintelligible, despite good Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. --Kevin Filipski« less
"Sound quality , picture quality and performance are very good in this production by the Australian Opera Co. Most heart warming was the scene in which the children dreamed of their real mother,
departed. Beyond that point this performance in flawed for 3
reasons. One: The Dew Fairy scene is a mockery. Second: Displayed
at the Witches home is a human hand sitting in the intake of a
manual meatgrinder. Last: Instead of a magic wand or some other
device, the witch uses a large butcher knife to keep Gretel at bay viewed by Hansel prisoned in a cage. I waited for this DVD,
in all reality will not play it for any children in my family nor
recommed it. Definately in poor tast and should not be shown to children. I plan to return it and buy the older Met version on DVD which does not have these types of gruesome overtones."
Different, but not always for the better
Clarity | St. Louis, Missouri USA | 12/15/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Same beautiful music. Same words (more or less). It's amazing how different scenery can totally change a story.
The opera opens with the children doing their homework. When the mother walks in with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth (to the laughter of the audience), it was clear that we weren't going to be spending any time in Germany's black forest.
That was okay with me. I was intrigued and was rather looking forward to a modern "city version" of Hansel and Gretel. But I was a bit disappointed with what followed. It wasn't a "city version". I don't really know what it was. After the opening kitchen scene I could no longer identify the setting. It wasn't a forest. It wasn't a city. And with that confusion and loss of continuity my interest waned.
I've seen the Metropolitan Opera DVD dozens of times and think it is magnificent. I think there could someday be a modern version (with a looser translation), but this one lacks clarity in its storyline. Had I not seen the Met version and known the general story, I'm afraid this Australian Opera version would have been totally mystifying. I'm happy that the Sydney Opera House had the audacity to do this. I only wish the production had been thought out more clearly."
Beautiful opera, cleverly re-thought
jondog | New York, NY United States | 09/15/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Clever scenic design, and a top-notch Hansel highlight this decent Australian Opera staging of the Humperdinck classic. The dream ballet sequence veers from the tried and true by beautifully depicting the children's dead mother in a heartbreakingly lovely moment. Those hoping for an ornate, mouth-watering gingerbread house may be disappointed, but the slice of birthday cake served up by designer Mark Thompson gets high marks from me, especially since it cleverly harkens back to the afore-mentioned dream ballet. The costumes range from the inspired (The kooky Dew Fairy sequence) to the dreadful (The low-rent children's theatre Sandman sequence). Elijah Moshinsky's stage direction offers up some wonderful moments, particularly for Elizabeth Campbell in the normally thankless role of Gertrude, played here by Campbell as a chain-smoking drudge. Sadly, video director Virginia Lumsden is not on the same directorial page as Moshinsky and often misses the mark with camerawork that generally stays too tight when expanse is begged for (i.e. the final chorus). Suzanne Johnston is absolutely perfect as Hansel - boyish and boundlessly energetic. Feistily looking through his (her) glasses, Johnston struts surely through a role that too often comes off forced, all the while sporting an excellent mezzo. Singing in a clear but sometimes top-heavy voice, Christine Douglas is as cute as a jiggly plum pudding as Gretel, gamely keeping up with Johnston and successfully avoiding the cliche that comes too easily when adults portray youth. Margaret Haggart seems a tad uncomfortable as the Witch, but when she trusts her director and really commits to the character, she comes shining through, both vocally and acting-wise. I far prefer Haggart's smug take on Rosina Daintymouth to the mugging tongue-lashing Rosalind Elias offers on the Met DVD. Malcolm Donnelly is a nicely grizzled Peter. The children's choir seems a tad under-rehearsed, but they are energetic and not as much the scenery they usually come off as.
Johannes Fritzsch conducts well throughout. Although I always prefer the original German, the opera here is performed in English in a good translation.
For a more traditional take on this beloved (and underrated) classic opera, you'll be happier with the Met's warhorse version. But those more familiar with the piece will find many pleasures in Moshinsky's sometimes beautiful, sometimes quirky, always intelligent directorial choices and in Johnston's superb Hansel."
Clarity | 12/26/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I recieved this DVD as a Christmas gift (Thanks to my Amazon.com Wish List!)...and it is GREAT! However, I do agree with other reviews on this item, it isn't the version to purchase and show your seven year old. In that case, I would recommend the Metropolitan Opera version which is much more kid-friendly. The design of this production from the Austrailian Opera is incredible. Created by Mark Thompson, it takes "the familiar homely objects which furnish Hansel and Gretel's impoverished home and magnifys, distorts and reorders them in the surreal world in which the children get lost." It is, direct from the description on the case, "a theatrical blend of the once-upon-a-time and the here-and-now" which is truely original. The vocal talents of the title characters and Margaret Haggart as the Witch are great (the Witch is complete with a satanic hair-do, eye-patch, and magic whisk). Visually fantastic, from Thompson's 'forest' to the Witch's Birthday-cake-dwelling, this version of Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" is sure to delight any opera/fairy-tale/performing-arts enthusiest!"
Be Careful, this may not be an H & G for small children.
Mr John Haueisen | WORTHINGTON, OHIO United States | 11/16/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"We immediately realize that this in not a traditional Hansel and Gretel, when we see Hansel playing with his yo-yo, and his stepmother in hair curlers, smoking a cigarette.
But don't let this scare you off. It's just a performance that may be better for adults, or at least for those who enjoy non-traditional versions. I wouldn't recommend it for small children who might be frightened by the witch's brandishing a large kitchen knife, and then there's also the witch's meat-grinder with a human hand sticking out of it. The witch also samples some of the raw ground meat coming out of the meat grinder. It just might bother some small kids--others might love it.
After the warning for small children, there are several good things to say about this production:
1. It's done in English, which may be preferable for folks used to hearing only the German. It's nice to hear the witch chirp, "Come Little Mousey; Come and see my Housey."
2. The Sandman brings not only somniferous sand, but also a colorful quilt for the kids to sleep on.
3. The Dew Fairy and her attendants are entertaining in their cute tutus and thick, Coke-bottle glasses--makes them delightfully awkward!
4. (and this is what really makes this production worthwhile:) During the dream pantomime, the children's dead mother appears and (wordlessly) assures them that she loves them. (This would be excellent for teaching kids to cope with the loss of a loved one.) Their mother doesn't want to leave them, but an angel urges her along and she just has to leave them. This is all synchronized just right with the heavenly music. --an extremely good addition to the Hansel and Gretel story.
It is well-sung, and well-acted, and has some nice special effects. If you're a bit tired of the traditional Hansel and Gretels, then this just might be the kind of "different" performance you'd enjoy. "