Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

24 Jun 2013

Hänsel und Gretel - Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Engelbert Humperdinck and his sister Adelheid Wette rather softened the story when they came to write the opera Hansel und Gretel, though sufficient undercurrents remain to allow a director scope for exploration of the more psychological aspects of the story.

Engelbert Humperdinck : Hänsel und Gretel

Father - William Dazely, Mother - Yvonne Howard, Hansel - Claudia Huckle, Gretel - Anna Devin, Witch - Susan Bickley, Sandman - Rhiannon Llewellyn, Dew Fairy - Ruth Jenkins; Conductor - Martin Andre; Director - Olivia Fuchs; Designer - Niki Turner; Lighting Designer - Bruno Poet; Movement/Assistant Director - Sarah Fahie; Garsington Opera at Wormsley, 23rd June 2013

 

So I had high hopes of the new production for Olivia Fuchs’ new production, designed by Niki Turner, which opened at Garsington Opera on Sunday 23 June 2013 with Anna Devin as Gretel, Claudia Huckle as Hänsel, William Dazeley as Father, Yvonne Howard as Mother, Susan Bickley as the Witch, Rhiannon Llewellyn as the Sandman and Ruth Jenkins as the Dew Fairy, conducted by Martin Andre.

The new Garsington Opera stage is open plan, without flies and wings, and you can see through the transparent walls of the opera pavilion to the surrounding woods. Fuchs and Turner capitalized on this by bringing the woods into the theatre with a permanent set of trees surrounding a huge open book of Grimms fairy tales. For each scene the book opened to rather magically reveal the set (Hänsel and Gretel’s house, the witch’s house).

The opera effectively started before a note of the overture was played, because the five angels (black coated and hatted actors) were walking about the auditorium. These were constant presence throughout the opera. To a certain extent they were a necessary evil, because someone needed to change the sets. But they also interfered with the action and and watched it, though it was never quite clear who they were. During the witch’s ride (between acts one and two) they donned masks and careered round the stage, during act two they put on animal heads and helped scare the children and during the dream sequence at the start of act three they appeared with huge wings, as angels proper. They seemed to be a-moral watchers, and somewhat creepy, rather than benevolent beings.

One weakness of the staging was in the orchestral interludes (the witch’s ride and the dream sequence) what was happening in the pit was far more dramatically interesting than the action on stage. The basic concept behind the production was quite magical, with the opening and closing of the book as the basis for a performance of Hänsel und Gretel. Fuchs and Turner created an imaginatively fun evening. But, as I have said, there are undercurrents to the story which were acknowledged in different ways by David Pountney’s famous production for ENO and, more recently, in Richard Jones’s very different take on the opera for WNO (also seen at the Metropolitan Opera in New York).

Fuchs and Turner’s iconography seemed to hint at possibilities, but was never fully resolved. During the overture the angels ‘helped’ Hänsel and Gretel to discover a 1950’s TV set which the children watched avidly. When the captive children were discovered at the witch’s house they were also engrossed in watching a TV set, but this was never explained.

Similarly, elements from Hänsel and Gretel’s life were displayed on a bigger and bigger scale as the opera progressed so that the witch’s hut was surrounded by giant cakes, sweets, Gretl’s doll and the stove from the house in act one. The children’s dream at the start of act three consisted of cake and more cake, with the angels bringing on ever bigger cakes. Then at the end of the opera the angels fed the now revived children with real cakes (eaten with some relish).

Whatever the questions posed by the opera Hänsel und Gretel, Fuchs and Turner seemed to be saying that the answer was cake. The opera is surely more complex than that. This weakness seemed to be personified by the witch, played by Susan Bickley as a glamorous candy-floss haired, champagne swigging figure. Even when Bickley took her wig off to reveal a bald head, she was not terrifying (in fact she resembled a character from the TV series ‘Eurotrash’). Now, I know that Bickley can be terrifying, I’ve just seen her playing Ortrud in Lohengrin at WNO. So this soft edged, fun version of the witch must have been deliberate. In the right dramatic hands, the witch can dominate the opera, even though the role is relatively short. But here, even though Bickley sang very finely, the character was hardly a tour de force.

This was all the more frustrating as Fuchs depiction of the Sandman at the end of act two (finely sung by Rhiannon Llewellyn) had been genuinely creepy and avoided the cutesy. That said, the opera was imaginatively presented and the audience clearly loved the fun side of it, helped by some very fine personen regie.

Devin and Huckle made a believable Hansel and Gretel, recognizably childish in their personalities and certainly not good. Sometimes the action of act one can seem a little awkward and arch, but here Fuchs developed a fine naturalistic relationship between Devin and Huckle. Huckle made one of the most believable boyish Hänsels I have seen in a long time and Devin was certainly no cute, goody two-shoes Gretel. The set pieces were well sung and the two singers were well balanced, and gave completely engaging performances. Unlike some performances, acts one and two positively flew by.

It helped that in Yvonne Howard and William Dazeley we had a mother and father who combined musicality with a dramatically edgy relationship. Dazeley played father as a drunk who clearly beat and sexually abused his wife, and the two seemed to have a troubling co-dependent relationship. It was this which was the scariest part of the opera, Fuchs seemed to be saying that fantasy was nowhere near as dangerous as real life.

Both Rhiannon Llewellyn, as the Sandman, and Ruth Jenkins as the Dew Fairy, contributed beautifully poised accounts of their arias. The school children from Old Palace School and Trinity Boys Choir were enthusiastic participants in Fuchs lively activities and delivered their choruses nicely.

In the pit, Martin Andre drew warm and sophisticated playing from the Garsington Opera Orchestra. The opera is quite heavily scored, after all Humperdinck was a disciple of Wagner’s, but Andre ensured that the balance always worked well and that the singers were well supported but never had to struggle to dominate the orchestra. It is easy to dismiss Hänsel und Gretel as kitsch fun, but clearly Andre and Fuchs took the opera seriously and drew very strong performances from the cast. If only Fuchs had dared to give us the darker vision that she hinted at.

Robert Hugill

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):