The music Conservatory Antwerp presented a reworked version of Hänsel und Gretel by Humperdinck. The opera lasted exactly 1 1/2 hours and was arranged for 12 instruments (violin, viola, celle, soprano and alto sax, harp, piano and percussion). The director was Stany Crets, a Flemish actor, director and writer, who sees the fairy tale as a nightmare/psychological horror story. The plot is set in skid row: pallets, oil barrels, a few mattresses on the floor and tires represent the impoverished district. Hänsel has some sort of physical challenge and is wheeled around in a wheelchair by Gretel, dirty from working hard. Hänsel and Gretel are children of marginalized people. The mother drinks, and maltreats them before she sends them into the wood. Her suicide attempted with a gun shot in her mouth to escape the misery of life is interrupted by the arrival of the father. The father’s arrival with his uplifting optimism is pure sarcasm in a world without hope, where drug addiction and booze dominate life. The drunk, violent father stumbles and falls, sniffs cocaine, knocks his wife about and rapes her. Act two sees the children in the woods and one can hear screams of tortured and abused children. The Dew Fairy and the Sleep Fairy’s only task is to lure the children to the witch’s house by drugging them with pills and syringes. There is no witch but rather a sadistic couple which share the witch’s dialogue. Being in Belgium one thinks immediately of Marc Doutroux and Michelle Martin, the couple who sexually abused and tortured 6 children in the 90s. And in fact the scenes of sex and violence follow one another with Hänsel and Gretel tied to a “bed”, violently hit and sexually abused (even with a broomstick). When the children finally kill their tormentors, the meeting with the parents does not give the sense of relief that it gives in the traditional story. Relief that is partially lifted only when the children throw their parents into the fire, with which the story ends. The interpretation in a dark key was interesting but the director chooses they easy way out by continually shocking with physical and sexual violence. This becomes monotonous and boring as it is the single only idea the whole story is based on.
Musically the evening was more interesting. The arranged orchestra was adequate although the saxophone (or the arrangement) sometimes gave it a kurt Weill-sound. But the voices were well accompanied. Some of the voices were a bit coarse, with many harsh edges, especially in the top notes and when the acting required a more “realistic” feel. But some of them are very promising. Personally I loved Lisa Newill-Smith as Gretel (who had also an good German pronunciation) and enjoyed the “female witch” Lisa Willems. All in all an interesting evening. I hope the conservatory will repeat this experience, although I would much prefer an original orchestration and an easier opera that wouldn’t strain the voices too much.
Regie-Stany Crets, Conductors-Mart Aus en Jaume-Blai Santonja Espinos (Act 1 and 2), Stijn Paredis (Act 3), Instrumentation-Jasper Charlet, Ewa Demianiuk, Vigdis Elst, Eduardo Bemelmans, Bianca Bongers, Liesbeth Decrock, Fábio Tiago Carneiro Videira, Tom Collier, Bram Rooses, Scenografie-Hugo Moens, Kostuums-Cleo Foole en Cisse Royens, studenten Kostuumontwerp van de Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, Hänsel-Laure-Catherine Beyers, Gretel-Lisa Newill-Smith, Vater-Lars Corijn, Mutter-Astrid Joos, Knusperhexen-Lisa Willems, Mathis van Cleynenbreugel, Sandmännchen-Sara-Anne Rousseau, Taumännchen-Isabelle Storms, Viool-David Bester, Altviool-Pablo Corcoles Ramos, Veerle-Demey, Cello-Beatriz Laborda Gonzalez, Saxofoon-Eduardo Bemelmans, Dries Meerts, Harp-Marjolein Vernimmen, Piano-Polina Bogdanova, Robert Van Heek, Percussie-Sander Van der Kloot, Benjamin Verstraete, Maarten Warson (performance of 21/04/16)