Michael Tanner

Undiluted pleasure

<strong>Hansel und Gretel</strong><br /> <em>Glyndebourne</em> <strong>La bohème</strong><br /> <em>Royal Opera House</em>

Hansel und Gretel
Glyndebourne

La bohème
Royal Opera House

The two operas I saw last week were premièred just over two years apart, Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel at Christmas 1893, Puccini’s La Bohème in February 1896. Both of them deal with deprivation and poverty and very different life-destroying forces, and ways of coping with them. They each, of course, stand as squarely as possible in their respective national operatic traditions. One wouldn’t want to press parallels or dissimilarities too far, but when I realised how close they are in time yet what utterly different worlds they evoke it gave me pause.

Partly it’s a matter of Hansel being so wholly indebted to Wagner. I doubt whether there is another work which is so derivative from a previous artist but still so wonderful, as if it’s the opera that Wagner didn’t get round to writing (and never would have). Die Meistersinger, especially David’s recital of the modes in Act I; Siegfried, above all Mime’s cajolery of Siegfried in Act II, and the Nature music; and even Parsifal, Kundry’s music being used to characterise Mother’s misery, mark its boundaries. In the magnificent, I’m inclined to say perfect, production at Glyndebourne, directed by Laurent Pelly and conducted by Kazushi Ono, the pervasiveness of Wagner struck me more forcibly than ever before. The saturated tones of the London Philharmonic, with exquisitely fine-spun strings at the magical climax of the dream sequence, make one lust for the promised Meistersinger, and with this conductor. The work is, as well as being an act of homage, a piece of gentle parody, or that’s what it becomes in this well-judged production.

Act I takes place in the most vengefully affordable housing that we haven’t yet had inflicted on us, ecologically friendly too, with scraps of cardboard and nothing in sight that hasn’t been recycled into near-unrecognisability.

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