/Vienna State Opera: Hansel and Gretal
a Baechle) in Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel . Michaela Schuster as the Gingerbread Witch in Humperdunck's Hänsel und Gretel from Vienna State Opera

Vienna State Opera: Hansel and Gretal

Something special, something that dazzles and fills your heart with festive cheer is the sort of thing you want to see during the Christmas and New Year season, and it is by tradition that Engelbert Humperdinck’s fairy tale opera Hansel and Gretal become part of the repertoire, (usually showing in November or December), for many opera houses.

I’d highly recommend Hansel and Gretal for those who are new to opera. It is no longer than two hours and a half long, including an interval. It has a simple storyline and it is considered one of opera’s great international success stories. Within the year it premiered at Weimar in 1893, with the conductor of the night Richard Strauss, it was performed in over 50 opera houses in Germany. Mahler, Brahms, and even Wagner got lucky and had the chance to conduct the opera on stage.

Curtain photo of the cast of Hansel und Gretal, Dec 29th 2016
Curtain photo of the cast of Hansel und Gretal, Dec 29th 2016

As I saw on December 29th, Adrian Noble’s production is an ambush of red hues, blue moody lights and colourfully sweet and edible houses for both the little brother and sister to sink their teeth into. The opera house itself is medium in size, yet still a treasure trove of regal statues and tone paintings, accommodating excellent acoustics and flamboyant playing by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.

The Brother Grimm’s tale is a bit of a head screw, though. Despite its fantastical context, including children story characters, and all things innocent and naive, the witch is a predatory cannibal which leaves it to the director and stage designers to come up with the best way for audiences, both children and adult, to be entertained with the on-stage action whilst subdued by the sheer gold splendour of Humperdinck’s score.

In the past, I’ve seen a production of Hansel and Gretal at the Royal College of Music, which was most definitely geared towards the non-squeamish types, yet it was much more toned down and fluffy in Vienna. By default, there’s a children’s choir as part of the production and for this evening there was the Kinder der Opernschule who sang angelically at the final scene. Yet, besides the hint of what looked like a meat (possibly beef) grinder, there wasn’t any blood, nor should there be! The gore was kept to the minimal and the innocent staging won.

The Vienna State Opera Orchestra.
The Vienna State Opera Orchestra.

Sebastian Holecek shined as the children’s father Peter whilst moany Gertrude was sung with oomph and welly by Donna Ellen. Michaela Schuster’s witch had a slapstick aspect about her which only made her performance wittier and sillier at the same time. I can’t really comment on her singing abilities though, just because I felt that she wanted to perform as a comical and children-hungry witch than the operatic mezzo-soprano she is known for.

Michaela Schuster as the Gingerbread Witch in Humperdunck's Hänsel und Gretel from Vienna State Opera
Michaela Schuster as the Gingerbread Witch in Humperdunck’s Hänsel und Gretel from Vienna State Opera

Chen Reiss had the strongest voice as Gretal, glowing and radiating charm. The trouser role of Hansel went to Margaret Plummer who had the vocal ability for the role, yet I have to admit I wasn’t entirely moved by her singing. This was also the case for Maria Nazarova as the Sandman.

The honours truly went to the opera house’s orchestra and maestro Axel Kober, who will be conducting various Wagner operas at Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf this summer. It was their performance that made all the waiting in the cold weather completely worthwhile.

☆☆☆

This production of Hansel and Gretal has ended. For more information about the Vienna State Opera, please click here.

The Vienna State Opera House - exterior
The Vienna State Opera House – exterior

No tickets at the Vienna Opera House? Try this:
The Vienna State Opera house is one of Vienna’s great staple must-see attractions. For the past few years, I’ve been wanting to go and I received a surprise gift to go. Yet, being entirely reckless, I forgot to book tickets as soon as I knew I was going. I had four months notice, where available tickets were as cheap as 15 Euros, yet when it got to four weeks before my arrival, Hansel and Gretal and Die Fledermaus had only 200+ Euros tickets left.

My solution – Twitter! Twitter friends came to the rescue and told me that Vienna State Opera house make standing tickets available on the night, the only catch was waiting in a queue for up to 2 hours. To my surprise, there was a very, very long queue of what looked like 100 people, at least! And who could blame them if it was only 4 Euros to see an opera at a world-class opera house?


Not to be recommended, but I gave my soul to the devil (a ticket gold digger) who had bought affordable tickets for 15 Euros and resold them for double the price. He made me pay 35 Euros for my ticket, which was a restricted balcony view and given the time restraints (of 15 minutes left until the opera begun) I thought why the hell not?’ Lesson learnt – book ahead!