The Komische Oper Berlin’s spunky intendant Barrie Kosky declared an informal ban on Wagner during the composer’s bicentennial year. The closest the company got to that quintessentially Teutonic composer was Engelbert Humperdinck, one of Wagner’s protégées, a one-hit wonder with his beloved fairy-tale opera Hänsel und Gretel. The KOB has a long tradition of offering high-quality opera productions for children, which for years has even included newly composed works for young audiences. Like the best of the KOB’s child-geared outings, this Hänsel und Gretel both captures a youthful sense of wonder and appealed to more sophisticated grown-up sensibilities.
Reinhard von der Thannen’s edgy, colorful production is at times disconcertingly sleek and downright creepy. The titular siblings are casually clad in white suits and often wear matching bunny masks, a harrowing touch that brings to mind Donnie Darko or Inland Empire, two very adult films. Choreographer Michael Berhard contributes a bizarrely homoerotic (and borderline laughable) ballet of the fourteen angels that guard the children’s sleep at the end of Act II. More effective are Björn Verloh’s projected animations of dancing sweets and marching cutlery. Processed to look antiquated and zoetrope-like, their patterns and formations bring to mind the trippier moments of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Fantasia as well as Busby Berkeley musicals. And several of Wiebke Schlüter’s costumes seem indebted to the imaginations of Dr. Seuss and Tim Burton.