What could be a more perfect way to spend a summer's eve than by sitting under a breeze filled canopy, sipping a glass (or two) of white wine, while enjoying an opera in the park? Last night we attended Englebert Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel, conducted by Peter Selwyn, at Opera Holland Park. The libretto follows the story of the German fairy tale of the same name.
Director Stephen Barlow has opted for the "opera for beginners" route rather than pander to seasoned Glyndebourne veterans with a simple, but fitting set. He gives the piece his own touch by making several allusions to the Second World War: the opera opens with a siren, children are equipped with gas masks, and two prominent characters, the Sandman (Katherine Allen) and the Dew Fairy (Pippa Goss), are dressed as a siren ward and nurse. Although some of us grown ups may find this interpretation not challenging enough to our liking, Barlow successfully creates a version that younger audiences may actually understand. Without having to overemphasize the wickedness of Anne Mason's Witch (though that sparkly green number she was wearing might have done the trick), children will be able to grasp the pressing sense that something evil is lurking in the woods.
Catherine Hopper (Hänsel) and Joana Seara (Gretel) marvelously play the mischievous siblings. The two not only sing well together but also fill the stage with effortless and flowing movement. The New London Children's Choir makes two delightful appearances as angels in a dream sequence and as the Witch's captives. We left smiling and would recommend this to anyone in the mood for lighter fare or to those a bit afraid of opera but willing to give it a go.
Hänsel und Gretel is playing until 19 June at Opera Holland Park, tickets from £10. For more info visit Opera Holland Park's website.