Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck
Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck
NBR New Zealand Opera National Tour
Bruce Mason Centre
With Hansel and Gretel, Engelbert Humperdinck and his librettist (his sister Adelheid Wette) managed to create something of a satirical Wagnerian quest. The children are exiled from their home, have to wander through the dark jungle, face a series of encounters with forces from another realm and then overpower the witch with their own human strength.
The Grimm fairy tales have both a light and dark side to them and Hansel and Gretel is no exception. The children lost in the forest encounter the good fairy and the evil witch and ultimately rid themselves and the world pf the witch by turning her own spells against her.
In this production in which Helen Medlyn plays both the mother and the witch the work also takes on a slightly more sinister edge. Just as in the Wizard if Oz film the characters in Oz are played by characters from the real world so the witch becomes the children’s dream version of their mother.
The second act of the opera where the children lost in the forest and imprisoned by the witch becomes more of a surreal dream sequence.
The exuberant Medlyn with her Edward Scissorhands fingers was the dominant character in the opera with some memorable singing and acting. Her broom riding sequence, a cross between a lively fox hunt and a thunderous folk dance was an inspired performance and given a well deserved ovation.
The story revolves around the two children who like all children spend their days bickering, thinking about food, squabbling over toys and moan about having to do housework.
Children often have ambivalent views of their parents, from the loving to the overbearing and always wondering when their real, caring parents are going to turn up. This theme of loving and loathing is threaded throughout the take.
Hansel (Anna Pierard) and Gretel (Ana James) make a delightful duo with all the mixed emotions and behaviours of children.
Anna Pierard is great conveying the slightly oafish Hansel with some well judged tom foolery and a well nuanced voice which occasionally seems to lack sufficient power.
Ana James as the more sensible but often strident Gretel displayed a voice with a fine range and power.
They were particularly good in the some sequences where they sang with a faux Wagnerian seriousness.
James Harrison as The Father gave a spirited performance both in his Act I drunken appearance and in the Act III reuniting scene.
Humperdinck’s music which is full of catchy tubes is a model of the operatic form with its well constructed overture to the lovely dance sequences and arias. The small orchestra under Tecwyn Evans was spirited in their playing although occasionally they overpowered the singers.
The major criticisms of the production was the lack of surtitles. It is should be now well established that any opera production even those which are sung in English should be supplemented with English language texts.
Singers are never going to be absolutely clear in their diction as the nature of the medium does not allow for it so it is essential that the audience is given the text to read or see.
The singers on the night were not able to articulate the words clearly enough and the David Pountney translation when it could be heard was full of clever rhymes and witticisms. The audiences (and the singers) also had the other problem of an orchestra which was at times over enthusiastic in their playing which drowned out the words.
The design of the set which has to be fairly minimal for touring purposes was a mini triumph for John Verryt. His conjuring up of the gingerbread house with a curtain of huge candy balls was clever and functional.
Director Michael Hurst has given the opera a freshness and unity, balancing the fairy tale, the cautionary tale and the sinister with a careful hand and an understanding of the links between the dramatic and musical elements of the work.
Hansel and Gretel National Tour Dates.
The Opera House
Sat 12 July, 7.30pm & Mon 14 July, 6.00pm
Marlborough Civic Theatre
Thursday 17 July, 7.30pm
Isaac Theatre Royal
Sat 19 July, 7.30pm & Mon 21 July, 6.00pm
Wednesday 23 July, 7.30pm
Friday 25 July, 7.30pm
Lake Wanaka Centre
Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 July, 7.30pm
Friday 1 August, 7.30pm
Hawke’s Bay Opera House
Wednesday 6 August, 7.30pm
TSB Theatre, TSB Showplace Civic Theatre,
Friday 8 August, 7.30pm Monday
Rotorua Convention Centre
11 August, 7.30pm
Wednesday 13 August, 6.00pm