ENGAGING, CHARMING, CHILLING AT TIMES AND FULL OF LIFE AND OLD FASHIONED GLEE
Hansel and Gretel
A Fairytale Opera in Three Acts
by Engelbert Humperdinck
Libretto by Adelheid Wette
Director: Michael Hurst
Conductor: Tecwyn Evans (29 June – 1 August); Michael Vinten (6–13 August)
New production, sung in English
NBR New Zealand Opera
at The Centre, Kerikeri
29 Jun 2008
Reviewed by Penny Dodd, 1 Jul 2008
The opera itself is a delightful combination of accessible story suitable for all ages, with a rich and tuneful score. Musically the piece sits between Wagner and Richard Strauss, with hints of the former in some of the linking passages, and with touches of German folk music.
Director Michael Hurst acquits himself very well with this, his first opera. He works with the grain of the music to present a clear telling of the story with occasional peeks at the dark side of the Grimms tale. John Verryt's design is enchanting - magical mechanicals, bright colours, clean lines and a marvellous. storybook pencil sketch style dark wood that follows the road of the raked stage into the depths of the trees, all curved over to embrace you or swallow you up.
Which brings me to my personal bête noire - the raked stage. While serving the piece well visually, and the performers did cope with it extremely well, I can't help wishing that there was somewhere flat so the singers could sometimes sing this demanding music with solid support from the ground up.
The performances are engaging, charming, chilling at times and full of life and old fashioned glee. Ana James as Gretel and Anna Pierard as Hansel immerse themselves in their characters with a childlike physicality; their voices making a particularly gorgeous blend in the duet work.
Helen Medlyn convinces totally as the worn out mother and her alter ego, the child-devouring witch. She rides her broomstick with gusto and a disturbing dark sensuality. Her costumes are a '50s shocker - Donna Reed with a beehive as mother, and the same frock in blood red, and black lace with lethal nightmare talons, and vertical fright hair as the witch.
As the father, James Harrison is a convincing drunk, with a clear vocal delivery. At times The Centre at Keri Keri's acoustics proved a little problematic, with the pit sound appearing to be more present than the voices from the stage.
Conducting with firm yet sensitive control, Tecwyn Evans allows tender, unhurried moments to contrast with the busy antics of the children and the frantic, bombastic witch music. The orchestra seemed to lack surprisingly little in the skilful reduction of large pit orchestra to fifteen by Michael Vinten. Full honours to the top strings and woodwinds for whizzing around in a more than usually exposed manner. Perhaps we did miss the richness of full sections, brass and horns in particular, but a full complement cannot be expected and I would far rather have this compromise than an electronic one.
Highlights were many, from the parade of colourful staging inventions: the lollipop house, the furnace, the pillowing clouds and cherubim moon, and the exquisite Dew Fairy, to the really wonderful score and its marvellous rendition by company and orchestra.
Touring NZ until August 13th.
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See also reviews by:
William Dart (New Zealand Herald);