Opera In English - Humperdinck: Hansel & Gretel / Mackerras
Simply unmissable for any fans of this opera, Anglophone or not, Mackerras balances the songful and the sinister with absolute sureness. There is not a weak link in the cast, with Rebecca Evans in particular showing how her voice has bloomed in recent years. Jane Henschel is a frighteningly credible witch: she could be your smiling next-door neighbour.
-- Gramophone [9/2007]
This new Opera-in-English set of Engelbert Humperdinck's wonderful Hansel and Gretel goes straight to the top of the list of recorded performances, along with the Schwarzkopf/Karajan. Charles Mackerras leads a most beautiful reading, fully aware of Humperdinck's debt to and love for Wagner but with a warmth that makes the glorious orchestrations and easy, lovely, folksy melodies flow naturally and gracefully. This is not to say that there isn't excitement--the "Witch's Ride" is thrillingly lumpy and aggressive. Mackerras offers a terrific piece of storytelling in music, and the big burst when the Witch is pushed into the oven is a fine cataclysm, handsomely captured by Chandos' engineers.
David Pountney's translation is always comfortable and mostly understandable, and the cast is blessed with natural actors. Jennifer Larmore at times has been faulted for her hard-edged tone; here, as Hansel--sure of himself, boyish, and charming--she's just right. Rebecca Evans sounds nothing like Larmore and portrays a Gretel both spunky and spooked out. If the children's Evening Prayer ever has been sung more beautifully I certainly don't remember it; absolute obedience to dynamics and an ideal blend of voices make it a few moments of sheer bliss. Jane Henschel's Witch is the tour de force this role had better be, and while she may not be the absolute best on CD (that honor goes to Christa Ludwig on an old RCA recording, a set marred only by Anna Moffo's weird Hansel), she's a master of altering her tone, from cajoling to menacing to utter loathing.
I prefer a lighter-toned Sandman, but Diana Montague cannot be faulted vocally or for her gentle singing, and Sarah Tynan's Dew Fairy is lovely. Rosalind Plowright's Mother is strong (she might have made a good Witch) and Robert Hayward sings the Father's music brightly (Mackerras leads his entrance "Tra-la-la-las" nice and quickly). Orchestra and chorus are superb. This set is a pleasure--the ideal Hansel in English, and perhaps in any language.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: CHAN 3143(2)
Composer: Engelbert Humperdinck
Conductor: Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble: New London Children's Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra
Performer: Diana Montague, Jane Henschel, Jennifer Larmore, Rebecca Evans, Robert Hayward, Rosalind Plowright, Sarah Coppen, Sarah Tynan