Hansel and Gretel

Engelbert Humperdinck
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre and English National Opera
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Alasdair Elliott and Susanna Hurrell as Witch and Gretel Credit: Johan Persson
Rachel Kelly and Susanna Hurrell as Hansel and Gretel and Company Credit: Johan Persson
Duncan Rock and Rosie Aldridge as Father and Mother Credit: Johan Persson

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre is the perfect setting for the company's most recent operatic collaboration with ENO. We step into the woodland glade and find a humble cottage with a smoking stove and children clad in lumberjack shirts playing among the trees.

Timothy Schaeder directs a humorous, sugar-filled evening, the sweetness perfectly offset with a swirl of menace, provided by the seriously threatening movement ensemble.

Peter Mckintosh’s charming set designs revolve and dissemble. The house breaks apart and is surrounded by broomsticks as we enter act 2 and the act 3 tempting gingerbread house spins to reveal an industrial oven for baking children and an ominous cage. The transformation of the witch into a giant gingerbread is very satisfying, as is the abundance of food flying around on stage.

Conducted by Ben Glassberg, there is some fine music making from all. It is a remarkably tight performance considering he and the orchestra are set behind the action. Despite a pared-back ensemble, Glassberg manages to still retain the necessary oomph delivering Humperdinck’s richly detailed score.

The whole cast project David Pountney’s witty English translation into the auditorium with pristine clarity. Rachel Kelly and Susanna Hurrel are lithe and engaging as the gawky young siblings. Alisdair Ellis plays the Witch as a butch dame, clad in satin and heels. Once inside the house, he rips off his wig and flings out his chicken fillets—his bald scalp and slathering delight makes him as horrifying as one of Roald Dahl's witches.

Rosie Aldridge is gutsy as the mother, with whom we easily empathise in her downtrodden, harangued state. Duncan Rock makes a bold, happy, stumbling drunk.

Often staged as a fairytale opera at Christmas, this summer production still seems to entice all ages, the stalls packed with all ages it seemed from 5 to 105. This really is the true definition of a family opera. Although the libretto makes it an appropriate first opera for children, the darker elements and fully fleshed-out music appeal to adults.

All the elements here work: a great children’s chorus, appealing set design, humorous direction and a lively cast in fine voice. This is a fantasy world audiences will be happy to join.

Reviewer: Louise Lewis

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