A very dark Hänsel und Gretel @ Music Conservatory of Antwerp

12985603_1260084287354726_1351612629243840063_nThe 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.

12998473_1260084277354727_8197667351791838855_nMusically 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.

IMG_5272[1]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)


Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel @ Bozar

A breathtaking performance: The conductor leads the motivated orchestra wonderfully, bringing to light the varied palette of colours of Humperdinck’s score. The singers sang a concert performance but behind the orchestra a screen showed a mix of projections, shadow puppetry and life acting which was all done and performed life outside the stage and projected same-time onto the screen. The effects were stunning. The creators brought me into a  magical fairy tale world showing that lower budget productions can be as enjoyable as famous-name productions. I, anyway, was fascinated. The singers sang well adding their bit to a marvellous evening.


Muzikale leiding-Lothar Koenigs, Live projections-Manual Cinema, Peter-Dietrich Henschel, Gertrud-Natascha Petrinsky, Hansel-Gaelle Arquez, Gretel-Talia Or, Die Knusperhexe-Georg Nigl, Sandmännchen und Taumannchen-Ilse Eerens

De Munt/La Monnaie season 2015/2016

MM_Home_EM_VruchtvleesjpgAn excellent 2015/2016 season was recently presented at De Munt/La Monnaie with a balanced choice in styles and good casts. The season starts off with a belcanto gem by Donizetti, L’elisir d’amore, under the direction of Damiano Michieletto, whom I admire much, and conducted by Thomas Rösner, who, if my memory serves me right, I enjoyed hearing in a lively Cosi fan tutte in Winterthur two years ago. The loving couple, Olga Peretyatko and Dmitry Korchak, are belcanto experts and the evening promises, at least on paper, to be a success.After L’elisir d’amore the operahouse will close to undergo renovation works.

Powder her face is an appreciated new entry. Composed in 1995 by Thomas Ades on a libretto by Philip Hensher, it tells the story of the “dirty duchess”  (I refer to the guardians article for details http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/mar/27/thomas-ades-powder-her-face-sex-selfie). Musically it is an individual mix of different styles written for a small orchestra with a large  percussion section.

I am especially happy about the choice of La Vestale by Gaspare Spontini. Although an Italian, he perfectly merged the French declamatory and the Italian style, writing a milestone in French music which soon was extremely successful also outside France. Performed only rarely, Maria Callas was one of the great Giulias.

The Christmas spirit is brought by Hänsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck, which is also a lovely opera. Pity it is given at the Bozar in a semi-staged version.

To be sung was created in 1994 on music by Pascal Dusapin, a composer who will present a world creation in April this year in De Munt/La Monnaie (Penthesilea). I am not fan of Dusapin and I would have preferred any of the cancelled proposals (Some of the pages in the program are grayed out, showing that these operas had to be cut due to the government’s financial change in subsidy policy. These opera’s are Die Dreigroschenoper by Weill, L’incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi and Die tote Stadt by Erich Korngold.

A Russian is also present this year, and a rare surprise with that, with Anton Rubinstein’s The demon. One of the last Russian Romantics, Rubinstein was mainly known as pianist and The demon, his only opera, has become a rarity. Such a pity it is a concert version. Another concert version is presented with another Italian, this time a verismo opera (the reason for the concert version is, according to the program, that it “is difficult to present onstage”…): Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Not heard very often in these latitudes. A welcome composition. Pity again, it is in concert form (Why are the Dusapins never in concert form?)

A florian_leopold_gassmannreal jewel is L’opera seria by Florian Leopold Gassmann; After having heard this opera in 1997 in Innsbruck under the direction of Rene Jacobs, I am extremely happy to see it again in Brussels. The plot is a mockery of opera habits in the 18th century, an opera in the opera, where an opera troup is rehearsing an opera seria, with its whimsical singers, it’s egomaniac dancers, its greedy impresari.

An original, and welcome, choice is Berlioz’s Beatrice et Benedicte, a far too rarely performed opera: “Je fis…l’opéra-comique Beatrix et Benedict (!). Il fut joué avec un grand succsès et sous ma direction, sur le nouveau théâtre de Bade, le 9 août 1862” writes Berlioz in his autobiography.

Mozart is always welcome, and although Mitridate, re di Ponto was given with Carsen’s direction in 2007, the opera, written by a 14-year old Mozart, will be a treat seen the chosen cast which includes Lenneke Ruiten, Myrtò Papatanasiu and the excellent Michael Spyres and Simona Saturova under the direction of Christophe Rousset.

The umpteenth world creation for the Munt/Monnaie is Frankenstein by Mark Grey. The idea came from La fura dels Baus, who will also take care of the direction, which, personally, is the reason to see the opera.

Picture1However, I can not refrain from some additional comments.

First-Belgium is a small country with 3 opera institutions. From Brussels, opera lovers travel to Gent or Antwerp and Liege. Why they sometimes give the same opera’s within the same season or the same year is a mystery to me. Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni are in the 2014/2015 season at Vlaanders Opera  while both operas were also given in the years 2013/2014 in Brussels. And this year we have L’elisir d’amore, in June in Liege and in September in Brussels.

Another thought I would like to share is about the Cirque Royal, a highly inappropriate venue for operas. The theatre is round and this poses problems on where to put the orchestra. Furthermore the singers sing in any direction, which results in a very peculiar sound. This is partially due to the renovation works and Peter de Caluwe “…takes this opportunity…to play with locations…matching them with the appropriate projects”. I hope he takes this opportunity only during the renovation works.

However, I must congratulate the Munt/Monnaie for an overall marvelous season, varied and with many rarities to look forward to. The absence of the various Joosten, Tcherniakov et similia  is also reassuring. The chief conductor Ludovic Morlot has resigned at the end of December. I am not sure this is such good news. Issues between the conductor the orchestra are a recurring thing and the orchestra could benefit (read: improve) from a stable baton. The concerts are also interesting and varied. These include recitals by Anna Caterina Antonacci, Simon Keenlyside, Matthias Goerne and Christophe Prégardien and concerts such as the Grande Messe de morts by Berlioz,