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[OPERA BROADCAST REVIEW] Hansel and Gretel at the Mahaiwe


JANUARY 1, 2008

Review by SETH ROGOVOY, editor-in-chief and award-winning critic-at-large at BERKSHIRE LIVING Magazine

(Great Barrington, Mass., January 1, 2008) -- The season at the Mahaiwe kicked off with the second in a series of live simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, this one featuring Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. The choice of programming by the Met for today encouraged families to attend, although there did not seem to be a lot of children in the audience at the Mahaiwe.

It's too bad, because they missed a spectacular, colorful treat -- an old-fashioned fairy tale disguised as opera. Chances are if you brought the average kid or teen to the show and never used the word "opera" he would have really enjoyed himself (until you told him it was an opera, that is). But any savvy teen would have drawn connections between this classic fable and that other pop-culture phenomenon celebrating cannibalism, the film version of Sweeney Todd, playing everywhere and drawing crowds that wouldn't be caught dead at a musical, much less one by Stephen Sondheim.

As for the experience of seeing live opera on film, while it may not be a replacment for the real thing, it really may become a thing unto its own. The camerawork was magnificent, the sound uncanny (this all delivered via satellite in the midst of a snowstorm). Viewers are treated to even better than the best seat in the house, which few of us could ever afford in any case.

In any case, the opera was performed with the appropriate scariness and tenderness, with Christine Schafer and Alice Coote handling the title roles with astounding endurance. The production values, of course, are incredible -- probably among the best in the world, and the chance to get to see the costumes and sets as if you're standing right there on stage is invaluable. It really is more like seeing a movie than an opera, and for several generations raised on cinema, this may be the only way to preserve opera.

And the glimpses between scenes backstage (and sometimes quick glimpses during the action) hosted by the lovely and talented soprano Renee Fleming help to demystify and educate the viewer.

The Mahaiwe -- and other venues taking part in this new program by the Met -- has a hit on its hands.

One note of etiquette given this new hybrid of performing arts: We were watching a movie. Some people in the audience seemingly weren't aware of this, and thought the performers were actually there at the Mahaiwe. It is totally idiotic to applaud a particularly good aria, the end of an act, or at the curtain call. Save your applause, which is meant as a reward for performers: THEY CAN'T HEAR YOU; THEY ARE IN NEW YORK CITY.

Instead, applauding this movie comes across as nothing more than self-satisfied applause for the audience itself for having the smarts for being there. Fine. Instead, give yourself a silent pat on the back if you must.

Concertgoers, Please Clap, Talk or Shout at Any Time

Concertgoers like you and me have become part police officer, part public offender. We prosecute the shuffled foot or rattled program, the errant whisper or misplaced cough. We tense at the end of a movement, fearful that one of the unwashed will begin to clap, bringing shame on us all. How serious we look, and how absurd we are.

“Silence is not what we artists want,” Kenneth Hamilton quotes Beethoven in “After the Golden Age,” a detailed reflection on concert behavior in the 19th and early 20th centuries published recently by Oxford University Press. “We want applause.”

NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/08/arts/music/08audi.html?ex=1357448400&en=b0dc3e91ea987387&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

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