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Georg Solti : Humperdinck - Hansel & Gretel
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Hänsel und Gretel, 1 DVD
Le chef d'oeuvre de Humperdinck a la réputation d'à la fois plaire aux enfants et d'avoir une sonorité wagnérienne. Ces deux opinions exagérées confortent le succès de ce conte souvent associé à la période enchanteresse de fin d'année...
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Filmed in Vienna under the direction of August Everding in January and February 1981, the soundtrack was recorded in September the previous year. This is similar to Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's technique; his belief that lip synching enables singers to focus on their acting rather than worrying about where their next note is coming from. This works for me but purists do not like it. Be forewarned that this is not a typically staged Opera!
Brigitte Fassbaender sings Hansel and she is wonderful in the part. Her light mezzo makes her a perfect Hansel. What I found a little disconcerting was her uncommon beauty which, although disguised by costume and make-up, made me struggle to see her as a young boy. Edita Gruberova sings Gretel and she too is marvelous. In the mid-1980's she moved into the Italian bel canto repertoire for which she has been better known. The pair in tandem carry the weight of this lyrical Opera without difficulty. Perfect casting. The late Hermann Prey is the Father. He was a comedic singer/actor of the first magnitude (my personal favorite Figaro for both Mozart and Rossini), but he tones his comic gifts down for this role. He looks suitably haggard in the film but his singing is as lively as ever. Helga Dernesch is the mother and she too is fine. Most interesting is the much-loved soprano Sena Jurinac in the role of the Witch, two years before her retirement. Her older voice is perfect for the role. Her farewell to the stage was as the Marschallin.
The Vienna Philharmonic is superb, as always. In years of listening, I cannot recall a bad performance by this remarkable ensemble. The film uses special effects such as stop motion photography and animation for the more imaginative scenes. They are effective but limited. Do not compare them to today's Computer Graphics intensive films. A lyrical fairy tale ambiance suffuses this film and it is quite magical if you do not expect more than 1981 can deliver. I enjoyed it and was often quite moved (the appearance of the Angels, in particular, I found exceptionally lovely and poetic).
The film runs 107 minutes. It is in color, shot full screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Sound formats are PCM stereo and DTS 5.1. On higher-end A/V systems there is a significant difference between the two, with DTS providing greater presence, a larger illusion of space in the soundfield and a sense of "liveness" I have found in none of the other formats (including Dolby 5.1). Lower-end systems may not reveal much difference. There are the usual subtitles and no extras other than excerpts from current DGG releases. This is an excellent DVD which I recommend highly. You will probably treasure it as I do as long as you take my several provisos into consideration.
This performance is absolutely the best there is of this work. I wore out the 1981 tape I had, and have waited for YEARS for this production to come out in DVD. While the special effects do not come up to today's production standards, what is there is effective.
The production is filmed, not staged. The audio is top-drawer and the acting is compelling and believable. This is an all-star cast, conductor, and orchestra that will not disappoint; check out the bios of the cast for yourself. Prepare to be blown away at how they could all be lined up for this project!
Bottom line? BUY THIS DVD!
Brigitte Fassbaender and Edita Gruberova, as Hansel and Gretel, simply can't be beaten, both for the perfection of their singing, AND their acting--they are so truly childlike (not childish!).
Yes, it gets better. Hermann Prey and Helga Dernesch add personality and a touch of comedy to make the Father and Mother roles much more than they usually are.
All we need now to make it a definitive H & G would be a good "Knusper-Witch," which we have in Sena Jurinac--scary, but believable and essential.
If you already enjoy Hansel and Gretel, you will still be surprised both by how believable as young children Fassbaender and Gruberova are. And--you get their splendid singing abilities.
This performance was recorded in 1981, but is certainly not at all out of date. It has subtitles available in English, German, French, Spanish, and Chinese, but you really don't need the subtitles to follow the story or to enjoy the show.
This would be an ideal performance to introduce opera to children, or perhaps to friends who think they could never enjoy opera.
You'll find more amazing details each time you watch it!