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Subject: Re: Hänsel und Gretel - a masterpiece
From: Jon Alan Conrad <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Jon Alan Conrad <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 16 Nov 2006 10:52:17 -0500

text/plain (83 lines)

On Nov 16, 2006, at 12:00 AM, Niel Rishoi wrote:

> Hänsel und Gretel.  A genuine musical masterpiece.
> Underrated as a musical drama (except to music buffs).

All very true. Also (as Niel notes) *much* harder to perform well  
than people think. H & G themselves need voices that can suggest  
childlike clarity and purity (any hint of sophistication "putting on  
an act" is fatal here) and at the same time have a size and fullness  
that makes sense on top of a very busy post-Wagnerian orchestra. The  
parents literally do call for Wagner-scale mezzo (or dramatic  
soprano) and bass-baritone. And the conductor has to blend and  
balance the complex colors and textures while keeping the rhythms  
bouncing and dancing along. Very few conductors really get that right.

> H & G was the first opera-based music I ever heard. 5 years
> old. Disneyland children’s record.  Marni Nixon, Sally
> Sweetland (is that a real name or was it Nixon doubling
> up?) sang the children,

Sally Sweetland is a real person, as the IMDb reveals. Her main work  
in films was as the singing voice double for Joan Leslie in movies  

I don't know if H&G was my first opera-based music, but I was  
introduced to it early, via a stop-motion puppet film that got a big  
release in the US in 1954. I was taken to its fancy "limited  
engagement" (the old McVicker Theater in Chicago, special souvenir  
booklet, the works) as a birthday treat. It's still available on DVD.  
The "songs" remained sung (the kids' ditties, the broommaker song,  
and actually quite a lot of the witch's material), but the rest  
turned into spoken dialogue over Humperdinck's music. Mildred Dunnock  
was the mother, Constance Brigham did both H and G, Helen Boatwright  
was the Dew Fairy, and best of all, the Witch was... Anna Russell!  
She had a grand campy time, throwing in extra ho-yo-to-hos and so on,  
on a level that kids like me weren't set up to appreciate. But I sure  
enjoy her in it now.

> I place H&G in the same category, in terms of its
> guilelessness and genius, with The Wizard of Oz – both the
> L. Frank Baum book, and the Hollywood movie (which was one
> of the few book-to film transformations that not only was
> not mangled, but which complement each other beautifully).

Sorry, Niel, a few of us Oz purists think that the movie *did* mangle  
the book. In particular, it was unforgivable to make it all a dream.

David Shengold wrote:

>> As to recordings.
>> My favorite Hansel: Helen Donath. Perfect. Voice and
>> manner, faultless
>> Gretel: Elisabeth Grümmer. Endearinmgly boyish, fresh.
>> The Witch: undoubtedly – Christa Ludwig. A scream. The most
>> hilarious, relishedly “evil” witch on record.

> Agreed in principle, though Donath in fact sings Gretel  ("  
> perfect" is not too strong a word) and
> Gruemmer Haensel! Wish they were paired...
> And Ludwig is indeed phenommenal.

Agreed on Donath. I would say it was the role she was born to sing,  
except it somehow sounds like a backhanded compliment. I adore her.  
And at least she and Ludwig are paired on the same recording (this is  
the Ludwig Witch to get by the way -- not her ill-advised later  
second recording -- and I have heard Mme Ludwig say that it's her  
favorite of anything she ever recorded). It also has a wonderfully  
simple and affecting Father by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at his best,  
and the incomparably best of all Dew Fairies, Lucia Popp. And Kurt  
Eichhorn, much more than many bigger names, is a conductor who really  
understands how to keep it all moving and flowing, without cheating  
the atmosphere. That Eurodisc/RCA recording, even acknowledging a  
casting misstep or two, is an absolute classic version of a very  
great opera.

Jon Alan Conrad
Department of Music
University of Delaware

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