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 Reviews

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

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.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

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.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

19 Jun 2019

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

Hansel and Gretel: Regent’s Park Theatre

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Susanna Hurrell (Gretel), Alasdair Elliott (Witch) and Rachel Kelly (Hansel)

Photo credit: Johan Persson

 

And, its grungy recruits - chain-smoking, scowling witches-in-waiting - are already masters of the arts of evil enchantment, luring the innocent with striped bags of humbugs, Catherine-wheel lollipops and twinkling twigs towards the Head of the Coven’s oven. They prowl menacingly during the overture to this new production of Hansel and Gretel, as a bright-eyed bunch of children are sent off into the woods. Their lumberjack shirts may keep them warm, but Mother’s words of warning will be quickly forgotten: the sweet treats strewn along the woodland path are all too tempting.

Renewing their partnership with ENO (after last year’s The Turn of the Screw ), Regent’s Park Theatre now present Humperdinck’s take on the Grimm Brothers’ rite-of-passage tale of children abandoned, endangered and ultimately saved by their own ingenuity, and Sheader keeps homeliness and horror in good balance.

Rosie Aldridge and Duncan Rock.jpgRosie Aldridge (Mother) and Duncan Rock (Father). Photo credit: Johan Persson.

McKintosh’s set blends fidelity and fantasy with a sure touch. The stained sink, wonky table and bare shelves in the family cottage reek of real poverty, while the leaning walls have a fairy-tale tilt. During the children’s journey through the bristly thicket, the cottage is transformed before our eyes, deconstructed by the hovering hags until it’s just a skeleton that merges with the spindly trunks. Their path lit by fairy-lights blinking in the broom-branches, the children follow the lollipop stepping-stones that lead to the Witch’s house: a monstrous Battenberg cake, adorned with a swizzel-stick chimney and glace cherries glowing like warning lights. The sight of this sugary edifice sends the starving siblings into a frenzy of feasting, and they don’t notice the gingerbread men fence-cum-gravestones, with their eerily glowing eyes, which guard the mouth-watering mansion. Once inside, though, the outsize oven quickly pushes pretence aside.

Hurrell and Kelly.jpgSusanna Hurrell (Gretel) and Rachel Kelly (Hansel). Photo credit: Johan Persson.

There are always going to be some compromises to be made in this venue but in this production they seem a virtue. Some discrete amplification is employed but it’s, for once, skilfully and consistently managed, and every word of the text is clearly heard. Derek J Clark’s orchestral reduction of Humperdinck’s opulent score is masterly: led by Janice Graham the twenty-strong ensemble, seated behind a screen at the rear, play with sparkle and punch, the seven string players forming a surprisingly sumptuous blend and the woodwind and brass players doubling instruments, enabling Clark to retain Humperdinck’s variegated palette. Ben Glassberg conducts a slick performance in which ‘stage’ and ‘pit’ are in consistent alignment: all the more remarkable given that, although there are numerous monitors to guide the cast, the choreography is busy and at time stakes them to the further reaches of the tiered auditorium.

Indeed, Lizzi Gee’s movement direction is superb. The children’s rough-and-tumble antics; the dream sequence, in which the children really do ‘take flight’ into fantasy; the delicate dancing of the en pointe duplicates of the dazzling Dew Fairy (He Wu), with their ‘milk-bottles’ of dew droplets; the reawakening of the lost children and the final chorus in celebration of this miracle: all are brilliantly conceived and executed. And, the choreography provides the production with a judicious moment of tongue-in-cheek kitsch. Reunited with his toy aeroplane by the sympathetic Sandman (Gillian Keith), the sleeping Hansel’s imagination powers a ‘lift-off’ to paradise. A bleached-blond flight crew arrive, smiles beaming and uniforms spic-and-span, and semaphore their pre-flight briefing before the excited children soar into the air on the surging wave of Humperdinck’s score, to be greeted by their parents bearing the balloons that will float them to wonderland. It’s terrifically well done.

Dream flight.jpgHansel and Gretel Company. Photo credit: Johan Persson.

The main roles are double-cast, and on this occasion Rachel Kelly (Hansel) and Susanna Hurrell (Gretel) formed an absolutely credible pair of mischievous children, singing and acting with freshness and genuineness, and evincing tremendous rapport. There is a lovely moment of sibling warmth when, settling down to sleep, Hansel insists that his sister lie top-to-toe alongside him, only - when the chill of the night air punctures his façade of courage - to change his mind and welcome her to share his ‘pillow’. With a simple set, and much to distract an audience in the open-air arena (helicopters, blackbirds …), the pair worked with unwavering, tireless attention to detail in order to compel our attention. Kelly’s gamine Hansel was less prone to a temper tantrum than is sometimes the case with the boisterous lad, but his geniality was deepened by the mezzo’s dark shine, while Hurrell’s soprano brightened beautifully as it rose, adding feminine sparkle.

Alasdair Elliott as Witch.jpgAlasdair Elliott (Witch). Photo credit: Johan Persson.

Rosie Aldridge sang commandingly as the put-upon Mother who hopes that the National Lottery will answer her prayers, while Duncan Rock gave a performance of vigour and heartiness as the lusty Father whose obvious love for his children is worn on his chequered sleeve. Alasdair Elliott was a particularly nasty Witch, wasting no time in whipping off ‘her’ wig, swapping scarlet stilettos for scruffy slippers, and flinging aside his drag-queen cleavage pads in disgust. Any delusions that the children had were brusquely despatched and in no time Hansel found himself caged under a table being force-fed via a funnel and tube while Gretel gasped in horror and fear. However, for all this Witch’s violence and vulgarity - ‘she’ used a can of aerosol cream as make-do foam, when shaving her legs - Elliott shaped the lines with refinement and his tenor had an air of dignity. The juxtaposition of nastiness and nobleness was striking.

Hansel and Gretel Company.jpgHansel and Gretel Company. Photo credit: Johan Persson.

Children from the Pimlico Music Foundation formed a captivating chorus at the close. Taking off their John Lennon sunglasses, touched by human hands that restored them from darkness to light, they sang with warmth and joy - an utterly charming end to an enchanted evening.

Claire Seymour

Hansel - Rachel Kelly, Gretel - Susanna Hurrell, Mother - Rosie Aldridge, Father - Duncan Rock, Witch - Alasdair Elliott, Sandman - Gillian Keith, Dew Fairy - He Wu, Dance & Ensemble Captain - Billy Warren; Director - Timothy Sheader, Conductor - Ben Glassberg, Designer - Peter McKintosh, Movement Director - Lizzi Gee, Lighting Designer - Oliver Fenwick, Sound Designer - Nick Lidster for Autograph, Singers/Dancers from Arts Education Schools London and Bird College Conservatoire for Dance and Musical Theatre.

Regent’s Park Theatre, London; Monday 17th November 2019.

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):