With a spare evening in Düsseldorf, Hänsel und Gretel seemed our best bet. Purchasing very reasonably priced stalls seats, we made our way through the busy but spacious foyers of the opera house. It’s originally from the nineteenth century, but then rebuilt in the 1950s, a comfortable combination. A great many small schoolchildren were waiting to see the opera, led by parents and energetic teachers (even on a Saturday evening!) and we also sat next to a numerous party of hijab-clad women, as yet an unusual sight in an opera house. Giant pretzels (pictured) were being consumed all around us, even by the smallest children.
It had been previously mentioned to me that this company has a reputation for old-fashioned productions (a perception passed on approvingly) so I was intrigued to realise that the staging we were viewing had first been seen over fifty years ago. Particularly as I’ve had the impression this is an opera that, in other houses, gets new stagings all the time, even when a good recent production already exists.
What I learned from my evening of time travel back to opera as it was staged in 1969 is that in former days, the painted backcloth formed a major part of the production, and lighting effects were minimal. It was fascinating to see two old traditions, a ballet with fourteen angels at the end of act 1, and a children’s chorus at the end of act 2 (with a lot of appreciative chums in the audience.) I’m glad to say that one newfangled invention, surtitles, was present. But I felt a little disappointed that this big congregation of opera newcomers was not getting the best impression of the wonderful visual experiences that opera can now offer.