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A Superb Introduction To Opera
Opera North: Hansel and Gretel
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Wednesday 1st - Saturday 4th March 2017
Music by Engelbert Humperdinck
Text by Adelheid Wette, after the tale by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm
English Translation by David Pountney
Director: Edward Dick
Conductor: Christoph Altstaedt
Set Designer: Giles Cadle
Costume Designer: Christina Cunningham
Lighting Designer: Mathew Haskins
Video Designer: Ian William Galloway
Choreographer: Gary Clarke
Theatre Royal favourites Opera North are in town this week with their ‘fairy-tale season’ featuring Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden, Rossini’s Cinderella and this evening’s spectacular Hansel and Gretel. There has been a deliberate attempt to make the show accessible to younger audiences and Engelbert Humperdinck’s tale succeeds in this respect. Opera North are to be congratulated for trying to secure an audience for the future.
The three shows use modern technology, such as video, in order to give a show, first performed in its original version in 1893, a 21st century vibe. Having said that, whilst they have made the narrative relevant, the show is still faithful to its source material and normal opera conventions.
We are big fans of live music in theatrical performances hence you can imagine how please we were to see the Opera North orchestra were tuning up upon our arrival. The orchestra pit had been extended by removing all of the seats in front of the 2 boxes at the front of the auditorium. This large musical ensemble was able to fill the room with the sounds from the fabulous score. Indeed, it was a pleasure to hear the overture for the first 8 minutes.
Hansel and Gretel is about a poor family that is struggling to make ends meet. They lack food and need both of the children to work in order to raise enough funds to buy food. After a commotion the last bit of food is wasted and so they are sent to the woods to collect strawberries. This journey is one in which not everything is as it first seems. Typical for a traditional Grimm Brother’s fairy tale – this is a story with a message which is still entirely relevant in 2017.
The cast for this evening’s performance had no weak links. Katie Bray and Fflur Wyn were a delight as Hansel and Gretel respectively. Their soaring voices were more than capable of being heard over the orchestra. Even though the show is in English, the text is displayed on 2 screens at each side of the stage. This is another step that will help newcomers to the art form.
Susan Bullock had just the right amount of menace as the Witch. The singing tonight was delightful. In addition to Bullock’s fine voice we had Stephen Gadd as Peter, Rachel J Mosley as the Sandman and Amy Freston as the Dew Fairy. They were supported by a group of wonderful children in the final scene who all sang, acted and danced to give the production a suitable finale.
The technology amounted to more than the set and the lighting. Hansel and Gretel had a video camera at their disposal which was then projected onto the back of the set. This not only helped improve the view of some of the action but also set up an atmosphere of its own. Indeed some of the close ups of their faces and the journey through the forest combined give that part of the show a real Blair-Witch feel.
The combination of a relevant story, great acting and singing, a wonderful orchestra, and a running time around two hours with the interval, make this a fine introduction to an art form you made not have considered before. Our 13 year old was very impressed and he said it was “brilliant!” Hansel and Gretel is an enjoyable start of Opera North’s fairy tale season.
Review by Stephen Oliver.
Photos: Richard Hubert Smith.
Photos: Richard Hubert Smith.
Read the North East Theatre Guide preview: http://nomorepanicbutton.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/preview-opera-north-at-newcastle.html
Hansel and Gretel appears at Newcastle Theatre Royal Wed 1 & Sat 4 Mar at 7.00pm, Cinderella on Thu 2 Mar at 7pm and Sat 4 Mar at 2.00pm and The Snow Maiden for one performance only on Fri 3 Mar at 7.00pm. Tickets are available from £18.50 can be purchased online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (Calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge).