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Hansel und Gretel review at Grange Park opera, West Horsley – ‘musically strong, with some puzzling staging’

Susan Bullock and Caitlin Hulcup in Hansel und Gretel at Grange Park Opera. Photo: Richard Hubert-Smith
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Immediately the ENO and Regent’s Park co-production of Humperdinck’s fairytale opera closes, Grange Park opens its own version.

There are a number of differences. ENO’s show is in English, Grange Park’s in German – though with a little work Wasfi Kani’s clever English surtitles could have been adapted to do the job.

And while at Regent’s Park Timothy Sheader offered a tenor witch, Grange Park gives you the female singer asked for in the score. In Stephen Medcalf’s production the redoubtable Wagnerian soprano Susan Bullock doubles as the Mother, too.

If this doesn’t quite work, it’s because there’s an uncertainty of tone that means that the witch is neither quite menacing nor funny enough. Left to her own devices, Bullock might have come up with something more successful: here she seems hemmed in by the concept.

Nor does the (certainly urban, and presumably London) ambience suggested in Yannis Thavoris’ sets for Acts II and III, with streetlamps standing in for forest trees, have the right resonance. The dream pantomime scene is visually dull.

Then the witch’s cake shop suddenly turns back into the children’s down-at-heel home. It’s both puzzling and ineffective.

Musically we’re on stronger ground, with Caitlin Hulcup’s Hansel and Soraya Mafi’s Gretel both lyrically and dramatically secure. Bullock is still able to flaunt her dramatic soprano tone, and William Dazeley is a lively Father.

Both Lizzie Holmes’ Dew Fairy and Eleanor Sanderson-Nash’s Sandman summon up vocal charm, while the full-scale ENO Orchestra under George Jackson makes the late-Romantic score sound marvellous – even if it’s a bit sluggish at times.

Hansel and Gretel review at Open Air Theatre, London – ‘an energetic, feel-good production’

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Stephen Medcalf’s German-language production is musically strong, but includes some puzzlingly staged elements