Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Beware of critics on a cold night

The first night of Hansel und Gretel at Glyndebourne was cold and damp, so broadly speaking, ignore the bad reviews. They only mean that certain people couldn't picnic on the lawn.

Laurent "La fille du regiment with Florez and Dessay" Pelly's junk-food-nightmare production is audience dynamite: pertinent, original, unsentimental, touching. Yes, the family live in a cardboard box; yes, the witch's house is a humungous structure made up of four supermarket aisles piled high with packets of cakes and crisps and fizzy drinks. As for the witch itself (word chosen with reason), the progress is from the humorous - the Witch's Ride is a shadowplay in which Witch tests recalcitrant broomsticks, progressively smaller, culminating in a mop - through the supermarket checkout lady from hell, to the truly loathsome: a hermaphrodite monstrosity with massive boobs and a bald pate, whom you can easily believe would cook and eat the kiddies. It's quite a relief when they get rid of her/him/it. An admirable performance by tenor Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke,

Yes, H&G is a sensitive subject for Glyndebourne, land of privilege and Pimms, where the interval is usually spent overindulging in some style. But my dear colleagues have short memories: if you think this is overdoing the point for the Glyndebourne Guzzlers, please note that it isn't so long since Graham Vick's parting present to the place was Don Giovanni gorging on the innards of a dead horse.

The vision scene with the skittering kiddies in white is indeed slightly disappointing given the transcendental and inexplicably tear-provoking marvel of the music, but there are moments of real magic elsewhere. Gretel - the radiant Slovakian soprano Adriana Kucerova acting her ankle-socks off - peers through a coloured plastic bottle drawn from the litter strewn across the dead forest, and our world turns momentarily orange and purple. Later, she takes shelter and sings huddles up under a haphazard log, vulnerable as an abandoned kitten. Irmgard Vilsmaier as Mother nearly stole the whole show: powerful presence and more powerful voice, despite the pink slacks and house-coat.

As for the obese children clustering around at the end - well, what else could come out of Planet Junk alive? If there's pain in this production, there's a good reason for it: it gets under the fat, straight to the bones.