Friday, December 1, 2006

Fun for the whole family...except those with black, dead hearts.

We went to see Hansel & Gretel on Wednesday. It sucked. I'd kind of decided to write a review for every opera I see, but Hansel & Gretel was just kind of a non-event. They were obviously pandering to the kiddie crowd, everything was magical! and wondrous!, etc. The opera was performed in English too, instead of German, so the kids who haven't learned to read yet could follow along. I hate most English-language operas, because they remind me of the Bubbleland/Dolphin Weather-Forecaster opera on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood *shudders*. The main problem I have with opera sung in English though is that English isn't a very melodic language. Italian and French work well as operatic languages because they're heavy on the vowels, and vowels are sounds that you can hold without sounding like a dumbass. In English, the only vowel sounds that can really be drawn out are the long ones. So when you get to a word with, say, a short "i" sound, it gets mangled into an "eee" sound so it doesn't have to be cut short. I'm not explaining this well, let's just say that I hate it. Britten is the only person I can think of who composed operas in English that don't sound like crap or mangle the language.

So anyway, Hansel & Gretel. I think they were trying to do it from a kid's point of view--like the mother's scolding voice is amplified to make it more intimidating (though it really just made the singer sound like shit) and the furniture was oversized and stuff. Unfortunately, they went too far, and when the mom was scolding Hansel and Gretel, it was just a video of her (parts of her anatomy, really) projected on a screen. The furniture wasn't just oversized--it also danced around the room. I don't really remember childhood being the same as being high. During intermission, I told my mom, "This is just like that drug trip I saw in that movie while I was on that drug trip." She didn't realize that it was just an apt Futurama reference, and gave me a worried "You were tripping?!" look.

Maria Kanyova sounded too old to be Gretel, and her voice seemed too heavy until the very end. Sometimes, it was difficult to differentiate between her voice and that of the mezzo who played Hansel. Lucy Schaufer looked convincingly boyish, but her voice went back and forth between singing and chesty spinging for me. The way they were directed to act also annoyed me. It bothers me when people who are supposed to be kids (or even teenagers) act like spazzes and do stupid dances all the time. I've never noticed kids doing that.

The rest of the cast was OK too. Graham Clark was very funny as the witch, but it was also somewhat disturbing, because he was obviously male in spite of his golden pigtails and fluffy pink dress(his stuffed breasts weren't very convincing), so I couldn't get past the whole child molester thing.

The staging was sufficiently "magical" and "full of childlike wonder", but it came apart in ways that might've looked cool in the orchestra, but that looked like crap from the balcony. I could see the stagehands and the back of the stage as well. I realize that we only pay forty bucks for our tickets so our opinions don't count, but could someone please design a stage that looks good from top to bottom? They also tried to out-Taymor Julie Taymor by having freaky puppet creatures that looked like they'd come straight from a Maurice Sendak book. The creatures took the place of the fourteen angels in the libretto, which didn't work so well because it wasn't clear if the animals and their freaky gnome leader were malevolent or not. The libretto was also slightly monkeyed with (though the original libretto seems kind of tedious. There's lots of "It's night; I'm going to sleep; Now I'm sleeping" or "It's morning; I'm waking up; I'm awake now" crap); mostly they just made the dad sing about beer. Because beer is funny hur hur hur! Fuck you, LA Opera.

Clearly, I am impervious to things that will delight both adults and children. Except for GameBoy.

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