HUMPERDINCK: Hansel & Gretel- Capella Istropolitana, Martin Haselbock (2 CDS)
HUMPERDINCK: Hansel & Gretel- Capella Istropolitana, Martin Haselbock (2 CDS)

HUMPERDINCK: Hansel & Gretel- Capella Istropolitana, Martin Haselbock (2 CDS)

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For all its supposed simplicity, "Hänsel und Gretel" is awfully hard to pull off convincingly. Too often it's dumbed down, an attempt by grown-ups desperately trying to grab children's attention by exaggeration, and the result can be that the opera comes across as saccharine, or just silly, or worst of all, easy for discriminating audiences to ignore. Happily, this live performance from the 2009 Reinsberg Festival presents the opera straightforwardly in a production that is unforced, emotionally honest, spirited, scary, and funny. And because of the efforts of conductor Martin Haselböck and his excellent singers and orchestra, the result is also musically superb. The orchestra, Cappella Istropolitana, sounds plenty big enough for Humperdinck's soaring romanticism, but at the same time it is able to give the score the clarity and intimacy of chamber music. Haselböck seems to have this music in his blood; it surges with a wonderful dancing energy and with a compelling dramatic arc. The singers respond with performances of the same kind of naturalness and immediacy. None of the soloists are international stars, but the entire cast is terrific and vocally impeccable, singing and acting with unmannered spontaneity and exquisite nuance. Bernarda Bobro and Susanne Kreusch as the children, Romelia Lichtenstein and Klaus Kuttler as their parents, Irmgard Vilsmaier as the Witch, and Aleksandra Zamojska as the Sandman and Dew Fairy all deserve accolades for their vocally lovely and dramatically urgent performances. The recorded sound is less than ideal because the singers' movement around the stage causes some balance issues, and there are clicks that are unacceptable for a professional release. Even so, this is a performance that can be recommended without reservation. Opera lovers who feel like they're seen or heard way more than enough "Hänsel und Gretels" to last a lifetime owe it to themselves to listen to this version; it's likely to reawaken any feelings of affection for the opera and may open some eyes to its wonders for the first time.

1-1 Overture
1-2 Suse, Liebe Suse, Was Raschelt Im Stroh?
1-3 Und Willst Du Nun Nicht Mehr Klagen
1-4 Bruderchen, Komm Tanz' Mit Mir
1-5 Holla!...Himmel!
1-6 Ral La La La...
1-7 So Seh'n Wir, Wenn's Beliebt, Was Es Fur Heut' Zu Schmausen Gibt
1-8 Doch Halt, Wo Bleiben Die Kinder
1-9 Wenn Sie Sich Verirrten Im Walde Dort
1-10 Wir Wollen Ja Beide Zum Hexenritt!
1-11 Ein Mannlein Steht Im Walde
1-12 Kuckuck, Kuckuck, Erbelschluck!
1-13 Gretel, Ich Weiss Den Weg Nicht Mehr!
1-14 Der Kleine Sandmann Bin Ich, St!
1-15 Lass Uns Den Abendsegen Beten!
1-16 Dream Pantomine

2-1 Prelude
2-2 Der Kleine Taumann Heiss' Ich
2-3 Wo Bin Ich? Wach'ich? Ist Es Ein Traum?
2-4 Sich Da, Der Faule Siebenschlafer!
2-5 Mir Ist So Wohl, Ich Weiss Nicht Wie!
2-6 Bleib Stehn, Bleib Stehn!
2-7 Alles Bleibt Still
2-8 Knusper, Knusper Knauschen
2-9 Hi Hi, Hi Hi!
2-10 Ich Geh' Nicht Mit Dir, Garstige Frau!
2-11 Halt! Hokuspokus, Hexenschuss!
2-12 Nun Gretel, Sei Vernunftig Und Nett
2-13 Der Teig Ist Gar, Wir Konnen Voran Machen
2-14 Hurr Hopp Hopp Hopp
2-15 Auf' Wach' Auf, Mein Jungelchen
2-16 Juchhei! Nun Ist Die Hexe Tot
2-17 Erlost, Befreit, Fur Alle Zeit!
2-18 Ral-la-la-la, Ral-la-la-la