Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Engelbert Humperdinck, Hänsel und Gretel - Salzburger Landestheater, Felsenreitschule

Premiere performance 30th October

After almost two months of operatic abstinence I attended the first operatic premiere of the new season at the Salzburger Landestheater with a work that I know quite well. The fairy-tale opera about the two silblings who get lost in the woods is one of the most successful German operas after Wagner which are still performed regularly. Unfortunately it is not treated as such very often and is seen as a children's opera instead.
The production led by Johannes Reitmeier makes the same mistake and creates a very naive and predictable rendition of the work. Extremely mannered and exaggerated ideas dominated the evening and reminded me more of a children's performance. I generally felt like every decent conservatory could have done the whole thing at least as well. The beautiful but also very plain and conservative stage and costumes created by Court Watson did not really help to change that impression.
Musically it also was quite a ambivalent evening. While the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg played very passionately and with impressive balance, conductor Adrian Kelly seemed not to have everything (or everyone) under full control. Too often the singers and the orchestra were not exactly on time and several cues went wrong.
The two small roles of the Sandmännchen and the Taumännchen were sung by Rowan Hellier and Tamara Invaniš. While Hellier seemed not totally comfortable with her role and strangely unflexible, Ivaniš sounded lovely with a beautiful light and flexible voice.
As father and mother we heard Jukka Rasilainen and Anna Maria Dur. Both did a good job but could have done better alltogether. Rasilainen sounded a bit weak from time to time and his phrasing was a bit rough sometimes. Dur also struggled with the size of the auditorium and the loudness of the orchestra, even though her upper register sounded strong enough. Only the middle register was covered at some moments.
Probably the most satisfying performance was given by Franz Supper as the witch. His clear and focused tenor has a very characteristical timbre and was able to sing over the orchestra without problems. He really filled the role with life and gave a very pleasing performance.
The two main characters were a bit of disappointment and make me question the casting policy of the Landestheater. Elisabeth Jansson as Hänsel had a very beautiful soft and dark timbre but her voice lacked the necessary flexibility and her diction was not really satisfactory. She also struggled with the power of the orchestra and the huge auditorium. So did Athanasia Zöhrer who has a very beautiful instrument as well, but is simply not ready to fill a stage like the Felsenreitschule. Apart of her power she also seemed an odd choice for this role which should be sung by a very light and clear soprano. Zöhrer's fuller lyrical voice (as beautiful as it is) was a bit too motionless and this role definitely too early on a big stage like that.
Alltogether a rather inglorious performance that showed a lack of seriousness and some serious problems in the casting department. If one takes the challenge to do a production on a big stage like the Felsenreitschule, one must not underestimate the difficulties of proper casting. Therefor the production will only get 6 stars unfortunately.
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Reviewed by Daniel Url

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