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

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

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.”

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

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):