Met's Hansel and Gretel is a Full Course Delight

The cast of Hansel and Gretel take a bow
I've come to accept that the Met opera seasons are like a curate's egg. You can't expect a consistent level of quality and inspiration anymore. But once in awhile, you might stumble upon a totally delightful performance. And such was the case with their holiday presentation of Hansel and Gretel. Despite a mid-performance substitution (Tara Erraught, the production's Hansel, sounded wan in the first two acts and was replaced after intermission by Ingeborg Gillebo) the overall performance was one of the best things I've seen the Met do in, well, quite awhile.

Erraught and Oropesa, photo @ Marty Sohl
Many of the Met's "holiday presentations" are slightly formulaic -- it's as if the Met knows that with NYCB's Nutcracker and Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes not many of the December tourists want to sit through a heavy three+ hour opera. But this revival of Engelbert Humperdinck's lovely work (the music sounds like a Wagnerian operetta) had a very strong cast. For one, Lisette Oropesa returned to the Met after nearly four years away. During that time she has sung Lucia di Lammermoor and La Traviata to great acclaim and her voice reflects it -- the sweet, fluttery soprano I remember has grown in both volume and body and now has more warmth. I think she's hitting her prime as a singer. BUT she has not outgrown Gretel. In fact her portrayal of the determined heroine was just awesome in every way. She was not "cute," but more of a tiny, determined terror and thus a formidable opponent of the witch. Her spastic dancing was delightful, and vocally she was superb -- soaring high notes, extended trills, and an intrinsic musicality that allowed her to make the music both funny and beautiful. Come back soon Lisette!

Siegel and Oropesa, photo @ Marty Sohl
Tara Erraught as Hansel was overpowered both vocally and dramatically by Oropesa but as she was unwell it's understandable. Ingeborg Gillebo carried the performance to the finish line and for that we can be grateful. It's unfair to compare her to Erraught who was sick but Gillebo had a pleasing, light mezzo that blended well with Oropesa. The rest of the cast was strong. I don't like tenor witches but veteran character tenor Gerhard Siegel worked well with the material. Dolora Zajick as the mother unleashed her still impressive voice. Too bad her English was complete mush -- without supertitles I never could have made heads or tails of what she was singing. Quinn Kelsey's sturdy, healthy-sounding baritone made a good impression as the father and he had excellent diction, no supertitles needed. The opera's most magical moment might be the Sandman's aria, and Rihab Chaleb sounded lovely. I wish I could say the same about Hyesang Park's rather nervous, charmless Dew Fairy. Donald Runnicles led a wonderful account in the pit -- he kept the right balance of the light and dark in Humperdinck's score. Enough Wagner and enough operetta present to make this, as I said, a Wagnerian operetta.

Children dreaming of food, glorious food, photo @ Marty Sohl
Richard Jones' production is another reason for the evening's success. The surreal, terrifying production puts the "grim" back into the Grimm fairy tales. This is not Disney. At the same time it has enough heart to make this appropriate as a family affair. I was sitting next to a family with a delightful young boy who was entranced. In one of the opera's best moments the children are put to sleep and they dream of a glorious feast with candelabras. It was a stark contrast to their hand-to-mouth reality and the quiet way the curtain descended on the children's dream had as much quiet power as Parsifal's Good Friday scene.

So if you are in New York, consider going to this revival of Hansel and Gretel. It's not just a holiday confection. It's a full meal's worth of opera. Performances run through January 6.

Here's a delightful clip the Met posted on its youtube channel:

Gomes as Widow Simone
In other news, the shocking downfall of many of the most prominent men in, well, the country has extended to Marcelo Gomes, the beloved veteran star of ABT. In a tersely worded statement ABT announced that Gomes resigned after an investigation was launched into allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred eight years ago. I'm in total shock -- Gomes has been the rock of the company, beloved by audience and colleagues, and not a whiff of scandal ever touched him. I can't believe I inadvertently caught his final performance on the Met stage -- at Veronika Part's hastily organized farewell he danced Ratmansky's Nutcracker Pas De Duex. I knew that he couldn't dance Onegin or Albrecht or Romeo forever, but I was looking forward to seeing him dance for many years to come as he had transitioned so well into character roles -- his Widow Simone was an absolute hoot. Details of the investigation are vague. For now I'm sad that I might never see one of my favorite artists dance again.

So I look for good news, something to show that good things still happen in this world, and I found it -- this emotional reunion of Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. Basketball fans know about their long, painful estrangement and all the reasons. But to see the two of them reconcile warms the heart. Just see the way Isiah cries into his face when Magic apologizes for hurting him -- that's love. Happy Holidays and may 2018 be a better year for all.


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