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Welsh National Opera’s HANSEL AND GRETEL Family Review

HANSEL AND GRETEL

Part of Welsh National Opera’s ‘Spellbound’ season

The Bristol Hippodrome

Wednesday 8th – Saturday 11th April 2015

Over the past week Welsh National Opera has been serving up a trio of productions at The Bristol Hippodrome. Spellbound is their theme for Spring 2015, which highlights the natural affinity between music and magic with revivals of Hansel & Gretel and The Magic Flute alongside a new production: Chorus!

Hansel & Gretel is a dark re-telling of the well-known fairytale which transports the audience into a world of magic, make-believe and delight, but is ultimately about the power of rationalism over magic.

Hansel and Gretel Family Review

As a relative newcomer to opera, I’m still somewhat in awe of the wonderful theatre of it all. Before the performance begins the house lights are up and we can hear the gentle hubbub of pre-show audience chatter mingling with dischordant music drifting towards us whilst the orchestra tunes their instruments at the front of the stalls. A reverential hush falls as WNO Musical Director Lothar Koenigs dramatically sweeps in and his orchestra respectfully rises. He warmly greets one or two musicians, takes his position, invites them to sit, raises his baton and the show begins.

Apart from a giant image, the stage remains empty during several minutes of overture when we simply enjoy the quality of WNO orchestra performing Engelbert Humperdinck’s score.

ACT ONE

When the curtain finally rises to reveal a tall, tatty, monochrome kitchen set with cleverly twisted perspective, I smile to see how the adults playing the children, Hansel (Jurgita Adamonyté) and Gretel, seem tiny in comparison.
The hungry children play and dance until their mother returns, scolds them for shirking the chores she’s set them and sends them to forage for berries, as there’s no food in the house. Later on, their father enters rolling drunk but soon sobers up when he realises his children have been sent to the haunted woods where they may be in danger from the cannibalistic witch who lives there.
The two women play Hansel and Gretel in a funny, childlike way. I particularly enjoy Ailish Tynan’s performance as Gretel. She’s a talented singer (obvs) but I also find her genuinely funny to watch, embracing childish traits such as absent mindedly fiddling with her dress and very nearly flashing her knickers to us now and then!
Their Mother is larger than life, making her quite believable as an adult against her children.

ACT TWO

Hansel and Gretel get lost in the woods, fall asleep frightened but then share an elaborate dream involving 14 masked chefs and a toad. (Oh yes, this is quite a strange story!)
A long banquet table and high set remind us how ’small’ the children are.

ACT THREE

The siblings awake in high spirits and, as they’re discussing their dream, a house made of food appears. They can’t resist breaking bits off and eating them. An evil witch (Adrian Thompson) then lures them inside, offers them all sorts of sweet treats in a plan to fatten up skinny Hansel, roast him in the oven and eat him. The children manage to outwit her and escape.

SURTITLES

Despite being sung in English, I still find many of the the words difficult to decipher, particularly at the start. Surtitles above the stage are provided to help with this, although they’re very high up so it can be tricky to read them and watch the performance at the same time. I fall into a system of quickly reading the words before watching the performance below. From certain seats surtitles aren’t visible, so it may be worth bearing that in mind if you ever book seats at the opera, particularly for foreign language performances.

AGE SUITABILITY AND VERDICT

In parts Hansel and Gretel is very gruesome (I suppose most fairytales are), with graphic images and props highlighting the constant hunger and threat of cannabalism which hangs over the children, but I didn’t hear any screams or gasps to suggest that even the youngest audience members found it scary. My own boys weren’t with me on this occasion so I’m undecided about age suitability and I was quite surprised to see how many youngsters there were in the audience of an evening opera performance. The few children I heard from afterwards seemed neither traumatised by it nor gushing about how much they’d enjoyed it. I suspect my boys may have had a similar reaction.

Despite the Brothers Grimm providing such a gruesome fairytale as the basis for Adelheid Wette’s score, I found this a very enjoyable and amusing performance. The last act in particular brought to mind a Pantomime with a man playing the ugly Witch, the principal boy being played by a young woman and the oversized witches kitchen offering the perfect backdrop for slapstick baking and oven trickery.

WELSH NATIONAL OPERA

Welsh National Opera is the national opera company for Wales. WNO is funded by the Arts Councils of Wales and England to provide large scale opera across Wales and to major cities in the English regions.

www.wno.org.uk

 

ENJOYED MY HANSEL AND GRETEL FAMILY REVIEW? THEN WHY NOT CHECK OUT OTHER SHOW REVIEWS ON PRACTICALLY PERFECT MUMS?

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DISCLOSURE: WE RECEIVED TICKETS FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS REVIEW.  ALL OPINIONS ARE MY/OUR OWN.

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