Naturally, the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, doesn’t want anyone to think that a broadcast, no matter how sonically faithful or technologically resplendent, rivals the real thing. “Live opera is still a three-dimensional experience, and there’s no substitute for that,” he told me. I’m not so sure. I’m not about to give up my orchestra seats at the Met, but if I had to choose between paying $80 for a spot in an upper balcony and $22 to sit in the middle of the action, I just might make for the nearest multiplex.
The next chance for that will be at Hansel and Gretel, in the new production by Richard Jones that restores some bracing creepiness to the tale Engelbert Humperdinck so sweetly bowdlerized. Jones refuses to find the charming side of starvation, or to candy-coat the cannibalism. Kids don’t mind—children like a little artful bloodshed, and at the Met for the Christmas Eve premiere, my 10-year-old consultant gave the stark weirdness his stamp of approval. He (and I) particularly enjoyed Philip Langridge’s memorably mad performance as the Witch. The trim tenor, swaddled in a fat suit with a mountainous bosom, plays her as a fusion of Mrs. Lovett and Julia Child, stirring, beating, and whipping bucketfuls of ingredients in a delirium of culinary sadism. He sends toxic-looking clouds of flour and cocoa drifting across the stage. He splatters himself with battery gore as if he’s just murdered a cake, and funnels a gallon of his Pepto-Bismol-colored concoction into the trussed Hansel’s mouth, spilling it voluptuously onto the floor. It’s a cooking show for psychopaths.
Beautifully sung, and brilliantly conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, this is a production geared to children fortunate enough to grow up immersed in their parents’ food neuroses, surrounded by talk of diets, diabetes, and bad carbs. If the original story of Hansel and Gretel emerged from primal fears of famine, Jones has brilliantly translated it for an era terrified by abundance.