Humperdinck - Hänsel und Gretel

La Monnaie at Bozar, Brussels, Sunday December 20 2015

Conductor: Lothar Koenigs. Live projections: Manual Cinema. Conductor of children’s chorus: Denis Menier. Peter: Dietrich Henschel. Gertrud: Natascha Petrinsky. Hänsel: Gaëlle Arquez. Gretel: Talia Or. Die Knusperhexe: Georg Nigl. Sandmännchen and Taumännchen: Ilse Eerens. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra. La Monnaie Children’s Choir, La Maîtrise. 

As I’ve already said since this season started, the main Brussels house is undergoing renovation, so La Monnaie is peripatetic. I should imagine management realised that Hänsel und Gretel is hardly “oratorio” fare and therefore offered it to us “semi-staged”, or so they put it, at Bozar, an art-déco arts complex up the hill.

Bozar’s concert hall has a warm, enveloping, “sherry commercial” kind of acoustics, so La Monnaie’s orchestra sounded impressively lush and loud there. Anything but post-modern and/or transparently analytical, Lothar Koenigs’ conducting seemed to me Stokovskian “old school”, alternating emphatically, in stately measure, between majestic solemnity and solemn majesty (i.e. think "cathedral" not "laboratory"), bringing a great deal of nobility to the score’s many beaux moments but, at the mauvais quart d’heure the end seems to me to be, bringing to mind a particularly galumphing performance of The Ride of the Valkyrie or even – well, a bit – a Bavarian Biergarten.

The children’s chorus and soloists were very good . Gaëlle Arquez has quite a hard-edged mezzo voice that carries but is perhaps somewhat monochrome; Talia Or’s soprano is maybe more rounded and interesting, but was one notch undersized for the large hall and orchestra. Natasha Petrinsky came sailing in with great Wagnerian promise, got up, so it seemed, as Morticia Addams: long black hair with high, spiky stiletto heels and a slender black dress, slit to thigh-level, with a black-spangled top. In the event, some of her notes were more Wagnerian than others (i.e. it was uneven in its gimlet piercing-power) but there was nothing to complain about – at all.

Natasha Petrinsky
Georg Nigl likes to sing Monteverdi´s Orfeo, Papageno, and Wozzeck (perhaps he doesn’t, on the other hand, like the letter “e’). His (naturally) playing up the Witch as a character part made any assessment of his normal voice hopeless, but he screamed and cackled very well and got the loudest applause of all at the end, which I suppose the Witch usually does. Ilse Eerens sang very sweetly. But the star of the cast was really the always-excellent Dietrich Henschel, musical as ever and showing no sign of the passing of time – the only one, by the way, to leave the score in the dressing room and, hands free, act the part on stage.

The others, in the absence of music stands, clung to theirs, and when thrust into the oven Nigl just strolled offstage, which is why I typed “semi-staged” in inverted commas.

There were, however, live (though there seemed no point in that as it wasn’t perceptible) shadow projections of pointy-nosed characters by a Chicago-based outfit called Manual Cinema, reminiscent in part of vintage Czech cartoons, in part of the dreary, wanly-coloured kind of graphics the English used to like (John Piper, Edward Ardizzone…) and in part of Le Petit Prince, France’s answer to Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The effect was no doubt intended to be naively charming and please the kids. It was what you might call “gentil,” but as an old friend of mine used to say, “La gentillesse n’est pas une vertu” or, as I recently read on a French website: “‘Mais bon, il est gentil’ (...) En gros, il ou elle est con.”

In sum, some very fine music-making and well-meaning animation but, as my neighbour remarked on the way out: “Oui, c’est beau. Mais on s’en fout.”

Here, Maestro Wenarto plays the Witch.

Il giardino di Armida has also covered this concert and unearthed this video clip.


  1. C'est beau mais on s'en fout is such a typical Belgian comment. If Belgians s'en foutraient a bit less, we would have a more involved opera experience and, if I may add, a less deprecable state of the city :-)


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