Hansel & Gretel

Engelbert Humperdink’s biggest hit, packed with stuff that should not fit. Hansel and Gretel is a one hit wonder, the strangest mixture of folk songs and Wagner. It really shouldn't work so well, but for inducing a giddy Xmas spirit it works its spell.

it is too paradoxical to work, yet it does: it is lightning in a bottle

Hansel and Gretel is not even set during winter, yet it has enough of the right components (poverty, hunger, angels, evil and a joyful ending) to become associated and performed at Christmas. It was written by a disciple of Wagner, yet adopts folk music themes and has elements reminiscent of panto. Its two lead characters are children, yet the opera is over two hours long and includes the psychological terror of the same performer playing both the mother and the cannibalistic witch. It has complex layered music and thematic motifs, but with simple tunes you can hum. It has Victorian uptight preachiness, yet has a children’s sense of anarchy. In short, it is too paradoxical to work, yet it does: it is lightning in a bottle.

Scottish Opera are wise to choose Hansel and Gretel for concert performance as the folktale setting and the use of props and sets designed by Scottish Opera’s junior chorus works well with a simple, stripped down semi-staging.

Ross Cumming takes the opportunity to shine in the role as Peter, the father, and the Ukrainian singer Inna Husieva plays the Sandman and Dew Fairy with striking charisma. (Both of these are billed by Scottish Opera as current Emerging Artists.)

Shuna Scott Sendall (replacing Heather Ireson due to indisposition) is a characterful mother, playing with the power dynamics of a stressed martinet with the children in contrast to the slightly fearful relationship with her husband.

I don’t know why it happened, but in the performance I saw Shuna Scott Sendall’s playing of the witch was rather underpowered, especially in the opening witchy scenes. To me, she was more striking and frightening as the grumpy mother.

The Christmas atmosphere is furthered by the members of the junior chorus working as stage hands, placing and removing scenery and with some broken-fourth-wall pantomime reactions to the witch. Finally, the junior chorus assemble as the Gingerbread children to sing The Dead Arise but cannot see and join in with the final scenes of celebration.

Lea Shaw (Hansel) and Catriona Hewitson (Gretel) navigate the children's physical nature and playfulness with skill and make clear the distinctness of the two characters. The set pieces such as the orchestral interlude and pantomime section, and the leads’ singing of Evening Prayer are suitably ravishing.

You leave with a combination of peacefulness and cheerfulness, giving a suitable preparation for Christmas to come.

Reviews by Mark Harding

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Join us this festive season for Engelbert Humperdinck’s classic fairy tale Hansel & Gretel, a concert performance helping to celebrate the reopening of Paisley Town Hall!A world of magic, fireflies, and fairies comes to life through Humperdinck’s lush and majestic music, which has something for every listener – from the beautiful ‘Evening Prayer’ to enchanting folk-inspired melodies. Our cast, children’s chorus and The Orchestra of Scottish Opera come together on stage to tell the story of Hansel and Gretel’s grand adventure deep in the enchanted forest where not everything is as it seems. The young pair will need every ounce of courage, cleverness, and hope if they're to escape the lure of the Witch and her gingerbread hut.

Conducted by Stuart Stratford and with staging by former Scottish Opera staff director Roxana Haines (Rubble 2022 and Così fan tutte 2021), with a cast of current and former Scottish Opera Emerging Artists and Associate Artists. Lea Shaw (Carmen 2023) and Catriona Hewitson (Daphne 2023) lead as Hansel and Gretel, with Heather Ireson (Il trittico 2023) in the dual role of the Mother and the Witch. Ross Cumming and Inna Husieva (both seen in this year’s Daphne) round out the cast as the Father and the Dew Fairy/the Sandman respectively.

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