This charming, persuasive, and glowing concert performance of Hansel and Gretel, part of Andrew Davis’s final Melbourne Symphony Orchestra season before he steps down as chief conductor, more than proved (if proof is required) what an outstanding opera conductor he is. Maybe, in future seasons, when Davis returns as the orchestra’s conductor laureate, there will be more: perhaps Berg’s Lulu, another of the maestro’s favourite operas, which the MSO would perform magnificently.
Meanwhile, though, there was magnificence galore in the Hansel performance. Davis’s love of the work shone through in almost every bar. From the opening horn melody to the refulgent choral conclusion, this gently sustained performance never lost focus and, just as important, never strayed into sentimentality. Engelbert Humperdinck may well have called Hansel a Märchenspiel, or fairytale work, but, as we know from our Brothers Grimm, this is not synonymous with saccharine. There is light, to be sure, but it is never far away from the inner darkness.