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Hansel and Gretel, Scottish Opera online - bewitching feast for ears but not eyes | reviews, news & interviews

Hansel and Gretel, Scottish Opera online - bewitching feast for ears but not eyes

Hansel and Gretel, Scottish Opera online - bewitching feast for ears but not eyes

Rhian Lois and Kitty Whately excel as babes in the cheap wood of a cut-price production

Rhian Lois and Kitty Whately as children conducted by David Parry (centre)Images by James Glossop

Christmas isn’t just for Christmas, Daisy Evans’s bargain-basement fir-trees-and-tinsel production of Humperdinck’s evergreen masterpiece seems to be telling us.

Filmed in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal last December, the February online premiere doesn’t exactly, as she claims in her intro, tell us “why live theatre is valuable” - hint: it isn't, wasn't streamed live - though sure enough, we’re all “desperate to get back to it” (who’s applauding at the end, incidentally? There can’t have been an audience). I’d skip the first three minutes of sales pitch and go straight to the Overture.

Which, with a less than rounded horn solo, gets off to a wonky start, though Derek Clark’s not-too-much reduced orchestration of the late romantic, Wagner-meets-Mahler score helps to highlight the wealth of lovely woodwind solos, and conductor David Parry excels in the pacing of the children’s growing panic in the woods and its easing into the lyric consolation of the Sandman’s song (nicely sung by Charlie Drummond, who doubles as Dew Fairy). The Evening Prayer which follows is as magical as I’ve ever heard it sung: Rhian Lois’s Gretel and Kitty Whately’s Hansel are in perfect artistic voice, and their crisp delivery of David Pountney’s translation – made originally for a more adventurous production than this one, at English National Opera – is impeccable. Even they can’t always hold focus in their animated gestures; the production needs a choreographer or movement director, especially for the Angel Pantomime, which consists of nothing more than the four singers who make up the chorus bringing the children’s cuddly toys in from their spectating role to guard their owners. Their antics with lit-up branches earlier smack of pure am-dram. Nadine Benjamin as the Witch in Hansel and GretelThere’s no edge for adults, which given a tale of extreme poverty and cannibalism has to be a fail – children can take more than you think. Nevertheless Nadine Benjamin does a vivid job both with exhausted, here heavily pregnant Mother and with a hip-swivelling, Witch who remains charming even when she drops her "Rosy Lickspittle" act (pictured above). ingerbread house is a shopping trolley posing problems when it comes to the mini oven. It’s refreshing to hear a soprano in a role we’ve got used to having camped up by tenors (Alastair Elliott for ENO at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre much the most threatening of the lot). Dad is a heavy role for a young baritone like Phillip Rhodes, though he just about carries it off. Why, though, does he empty his Tesco’s bag of meagre goodies into a wheelbarrow rather than onto the table? And why are we left with stagehands striking the Act One set during the Witch’s Ride when camerawork could take us to look elsewhere (at members of the orchestra or Parry, for example, always kept at a distance?)

The acting area is built out in front of the proscenium arch with the orchestra on stage, but so much more could be done in an empty theatre – only reference the marvellous filming of the Wilton’s Music Hall Turn of the Screw, in which Lois stars as Governess to two children rather than as one of two very different juveniles? Perhaps you could just listen; the whole music-drama will leap out at you all the more vividly.

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