Hänsel und Gretel - Royal Opera House, 11 December 2008 (first night of second cast)
Despite the fact that Hänsel und Gretel is nominally a children's opera, there were precious few kids in the auditorium for this second performance in the run. There weren't many at the first either. But with tickets at up to £110 it's perhaps not surprising.
Less privileged children will just have to wait for the TV screening - now confirmed as BBC2 at 3pm on 25 December.
So 25 year old conductor Robin Ticciati was, as usual, younger than 99% of his audience. This was not just the first night for the second cast, but also Ticciati's Covent Garden debut. Alternating conducting duties with Sir Colin Davis was not quite a mighty leap into the unknown, as he's just finished conducting Glyndebourne's touring production.
His Hänsel und Gretel is quite different from the dark post-Wagnerian elegance of Sir Colin's. For a start, he set up a cracking pace, knocking at least five minutes off each half. The touch was lighter, he pulled tempos and dynamics around less. It was a playful interpretation that emphasised the shiny surfaces more and the dark undercurrents less.
The orchestra, horns especially, played beautifully for him. Overtures apart, his eyes were locked on the stage almost constantly, with barely a glance at the score, still less at the musicians. Obviously he's telepathic as well as talented, because everything held together perfectly.
In Alice Coote's Hänsel and Camilla Tilling's Gretel we had a less intuitively-matched pairing than the first cast of Angelika Kirchschlager (enjoying herself in row B of tonight's audience) and Diana Damrau. The first cast were best of friends; the second were more like real siblings, with all the differences and discords that implies.
Alice Coote's Hänsel was the boisterous dimwit familiar from her Met performance earlier in the year and powerfully sung. Camilla Tilling's voice was underweight in the first act, but improved, and she had a childlike vulnerability that eluded Diana Damrau, for all her impressive technique. We all now know girls are smarter than boys, but it's also woven into the Hansel and Gretel storyline, as Coote and Tilling beautifully illustrated.
Irmgard Vilsmaier as Mother and Eike Wilm Schulte as Father got a head start on laughs - she's about twice his size in all directions. They sang more accurately and enunciated more clearly than the first cast, even if they lacked some of their dramatic confidence and presence.
Ann Murray's more governessy character terrified less than Anja Silja's definitive witch, though the voice is in better shape. As reader ljg pointed out, she may be the first singer to tackle a role previously performed by her husband (Philip Langridge at the Met).
Eri Nakamura's Sandman and Simona Mihai's Dew Fairy were both nicely done, though the rubber-masked Sandman costume still gives me the creeps - far more so than the dead children strung up in the witch's freezer which have so perturbed 'children's campaigners'. The Tiffin schoolchildren on the stage didn't seem to have the least problem with any of it.
Incidentally, Green & Blacks have been giving out their very yummy chocolate before selected shows for a while now, and I was pleased to find the Royal Opera House have recruited another sponsor, this time Acqua di Parma, handing out cologne samples. One commercial intrusion I really don't mind.