Hansel and Gretel is a lovely and I think underrated opera, and also one of my first along with La Boheme, Il Barbiere Di Siviglia and La Traviata. The story is one that probably everybody knows, and there are at least two recognisable tunes in the wonderful music. So if you are trying to introduce opera to a younger audience, I think generally that Hansel and Gretel(though probably in English to begin with) is a good place to start. This production has its good and bad points. I do prefer the 1981 Vienna and 1982 Met productions and to a lesser extent the 2008 Royal Opera House one as well, but it is miles better than the distasteful and downright weird 2007 Met performance.
Good things: The best asset aside from the music is the superb Hansel of Suzanne Johnston. She has a beautiful voice, is full of energy and even more of a bonus is that she does look like a boy in this production. Christine Douglas is cute as a button and her tone is crystal clear, even if she is occasionally a tad too heavy at the top. Malcolm Donnelly is suitably grizzled and sympathetic as Peter the father figure, and Elizabeth Campbell is very good as Gertrude. She is helped though by the fact that her role is much more interesting than it usually is. In fact there are a few nice staging touches, for example the children's dead mother appearing to them in the dream sequence is incredibly touching. The Dew Fairy sequence is quite kooky and fun in that sense. Margaret Haggart starts off uncomfortable but gets rapidly better, and is a very committed and scarily smug Witch on the whole. The orchestral playing and conducting are first-rate and the children's choir are charming. The translation from German to English is good too.
Bad things: Actually I was very mixed on the costumes. The ones for the Dew Fairy sequence were very nice, and the Witch was very effective. The worst case was for the Sandman sequence, which costume and staging wise was rather amateurish. The sets are generally confusing, the forest and city settings didn't look or feel like forest and city settings and were next to impossible to identify. Only the cake-dwelling for the Witch showed any kind of imagination. Mostly the staging is very clever, but the Sandman sequence is misjudged, and the Witch brandishing a knife and her with her meat-grinder will disturb kids if they were shown this production. Considering that Hansel and Gretel is one of the few accessible operas strictly speaking for younger audiences, I personally don't think that was a good move. I also felt that the final chorus is not rousing enough. The latter is not helped though by the video directing, which throughout the production is too tight and not expansive enough in places when the latter approach is needed, which is the case of the final chorus.
Overall, has much to enjoy but it's not without its problems also. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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