Composer: Engelbert Humperdinck
Author : Adelheid Wette based upon the story by the Brothers Grimm
Director: Edward Dick
Conductor: Christoph Altstaedt
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Although Hansel and Gretel is relatively modest,with a cast of just six, Opera North are determined to offer value for money. Upon entering The Lowry patrons are greeted by the orchestra’s brass section playing in the foyer.
Hansel and Gretel is highly accessible – very much opera for people who feel intimidated by the genre. Engelbert Humperdinck’s score is heavily based upon folk music from the period and at times brings to mind the simple direct approach of nursery rhymes. It is hard to resist clapping along to Hansel and Gretel’s dancing game that would be right at home in mainstream entertainment such as The Sound of Music.
Director Edward Dick gives a very contemporary production that, in many ways, confounds what one might expect. Set in the present day Hansel ( Katie Bray) and Gretel ( Fflur Wyn) live in a high rise block rather than at the edge of a forest. More significantly they are not particularly sympathetic characters; wasting their time lazing around the flat filming each other or messing around on smartphones instead of doing their chores. Instead of a hard working woodsman their father (Stephen Gadd) is a drunk and abusive to his wife (Susan Bullock who also takes the role of The Witch) who is portrayed as a woman at the edge of her tether rather than a malicious schemer.
The characterisation is not the only contemporary aspect. In the style of The Blair Witch Project designer Giles Cadle projects filmed close ups of the faces of the children onto the walls of their flat. The forest is conjured in the same imaginative yet economical manner with close-up shots of toilet brushes and Christmas decorations surrounding the cast. In an excellent touch an overstocked fridge represents the gingerbread house.
It is an imaginative production but not a very frightening one. Susan Bullock vamps it up as The Witch but feels more like a pantomime villain than a truly evil creature. After all, if she were to represent the most disturbing villain of the recent past a shell suit, medallions and a cigar would replace her dark costume.
Director Edward Dick resolves some of the more difficult and confusing aspects of the opera in fine style. The lengthy instrumental section that concludes the first half has little drama but Dick compensates by employing it as the background for a filmed dream sequence of Hansel and Gretel’s ideal day out with a grandparent fantasy figure. The title characters, who are hard to like throughout the opera,achieve a degree of redemption in a charming concluding scene.
Runs until 11 March 2017 | Image: Robert Workman