Monday, 28 December 2015

Engelbert Humperdinck, Hänsel und Gretel - Linzer Landestheater, Musiktheater

Performance 25th December

Part 3 of my christmas opera marathon took place in Linz. Hänsel und Gretel is probably one of the best examples for an opera for children. A famous fairytale as plot and ravishing melodies and songs that are easy to remember. Still it is not just a piece for kids but also a highly professional work that shows the talent that Humperdinck had.
The production of the theatre's director Rainer Mennicken (who is leaving after this season) does not leave anything left to wish for. Both staging and costumes (Christian Schmidleithner) looked lovely and showed so many nice details in many different shapes. Everything just suited the whole plot just perfectly. Also the idea to include two dancers (and also the children) with strong focus on choreography (Matthew Tusa) and pantomimic scenes was marvelous and worked out pretty well. Especially the dance roles of the raven (Mazen Muna) and the cat (Fatina Saleh) made sense and supported the drama really well.
Musically conductor Takeshi Moriuchi was able to deliver the drama of Humperdinck's score as well as the catchy tunes. The Bruckner Orchester Linz followed his directions marvelously and played very clearly and accurately. Everything sounded very balanced and precise. Also the Kinder- & Jugendchor des Landestheaters Linz gave a very good performance and earned the huge waves of applause in the end.
The soloists all did a very good job. Jenifer Lary sang  both Sandmännchen and Taumännchen. Her clear voice suited both roles excellently. Her voice has a very soft and pleasent timbre with a very focused sound.
Michael Wagner also gave a ravishing performance as father Peter. His strong voice has a beautiful warm timbre and also impressive stamina. The role seemed to be very comfortable for him for he did not seem to have any issues with it at any point. Same is valid for Karen Robertson as mother Gertrud. Her mezzo voice has a very clear and easygoing upper register. She did a very impressive job in this role with her focused but still soft voice.
The role of the witch is not very long but still quite demanding in terms of singing AND acting. Originally written for a mezzo soprano it is also frequently performed by tenors (whyever?). This leads to several issues in the performance that are caused by the vocal differences of these two vocal types. Nevertheless Matthäus Schmidlechner, who sang the Kusperhexe during this performance, did a fine job. His voice is not just very flexible but also quite powerful with a very piercing timbre. He did not seem to have problems with the high parts of the role. I would still have preferred a mezzo singing it because the role is definitely written for another voice type than a tenor. A classic example for the importance of the Fach system because of course a good tenor won't have any problems with the range of the role. But as I said, Schmidlechner did a fine job and earned a lot of applause in the end (totally earned).
Martha Hirschmann sang a very lyric and cheeky Hänsel with a very powerful and affectionate voice. Her lower register has a very warm sound while her upper register sounds clear and piercing. But also besides her singing she did a lovely job with very convincing acting skills.
My personal highlight was Elisabeth Breuer as Gretel. I was really impressed by her incredible singing and was immediately reminded of Helen Donath. Breuer's voice has a bell-like quality in her upper register and a enormously beautiful timbre in her lower registers. Everything she sang just sounded marvelously beautiful. The sheer beauty of her voice combined with her agility and the ease of her high notes make her a perfect Gretel. For me she definitely gave the performance of the evening and a performance that could also have taken place in the great opera houses of Europe! BRAVO!!!
All in all I really enjoyed the performance and I can say that the Landestheater Linz is probably Austria's most successfully emerging company at the moment. The whole production was really positive and a great success. Therefore I give 9 stars out of ten to Linz' Hänsel und Gretel.
Review by Daniel Url

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