Composed by Engelbert Humperdinck
Libretto by Adelheid Wette
Director: James Bonas
Reviewer: Elizabeth Vile
The Public Reviews Rating:
Founded in 2008 Co-Opera co. works with professionals at the beginning of their careers to create new productions of opera classics as well as opera galas. These productions are toured and give young performers “invaluable, paid performance opportunities” that will help with their future careers.
This production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s (not the Eurovision guy!) Hansel and Gretel is running in rep with two other classic opera’s and is a clever and exciting blend of traditional fairytale, pantomime and contemporary elements. The story is based on Grimms fairy tale and follows the story of two children who are sent out into the wood by their mother to find strawberries and they get lost. The children then stumble on the home of an evil witch who imprisons them with the intention of cooking then for her dinner. With clear diction from all the performers and a witty and contemporary (although slightly twee) translation by David Pountney the story was clearly understood and enjoyed by all.
All the performers were well cast and inhabited their characters well. Hansel played by Susanne Holmes and Gretel played by Llio Evans had effective and engaging physicality. It can be very hard to sustain the character of a young child but through unwavering energy and attention to detail they portrayed two very believable and real children. Their voices also complimented each other beautifully and their rendition of Evening Prayer was a high spot in the production. Shuna Sendall multi roled exceptionally between the mother and the witch, she sensitively captured the weariness of the mother and contrasted this with the madness of the witch later on. Stephen John Svanholm in a smaller role as the father was a confused and intriguing mixture of kindness and cruelty, coming home drunk and threatening his wife was contrasted with his tireless searching for his lost children through the night.
This theme of love verses cruelty seemed to run through this opera and was laced into James Bonas’ direction. With ideas of abuse, abduction, murder and starvation some moments were unexpectedly dark and unsettling. These were contrasted with sweetness and humour (like the DewFairy – Rahel Moore, placing dew on flowers with a turkey baster) but the darkness did come very close to the knuckle at times.
This is an unsettling and surreal production that took risks. Not all the risks worked but there were real sparks of brilliance throughout the performance and the music and singing were a treat for the ears. This production is not suitable for young children but is very accessible for young adults and up.