In Operaland, Hansel and Gretel is not just for Christmas – hence this midsummer co-production by English National Opera at Regent’s Park, where the weather is, for once, perfect – at least on opening night.
Humperdinck’s opera is pretty well perfect too, its mix of Grimm-plus-humour artfully blended in Timothy Sheader’s production, with Peter McKintosh’s designs blending nicely into the woodland background and maximising the potential of the diminishing light for the second half, when Alasdair Elliott’s Witch sallies forth.
Elliott enjoys himself immensely, his performance flawlessly offset by the two adult children – Rachel Kelly’s gangling teenager Hansel and Susanna Hurrell’s marginally more mature Gretel, who together bring tears to many eyes when they deliver the famous Evening Prayer.
McKintosh and movement director Lizzi Gee come up with a clever solution to the lengthy Dream Pantomime sequence, where the kids imagine they’re being flown on an airliner, with a crew of blonde stewards and stewardesses bringing them hamburgers on trays. The colourful and apparently delicious gingerbread house is another visual triumph.
Other roles are equally well performed. Rosie Aldridge is the harassed Mother, Duncan Rock the Father who copes better – though through alcohol. Gillian Keith sprinkles vocal fairy dust as the Sandman and He Wu’s Dew Fairy is just the ticket. The kids’ chorus at the end – from Pimlico Musical Foundation, directed by James Day – bring the piece to an energetic close.
Despite its deliberately dark moments, this is a feel-good show, with David Pountney’s translation apt at every turn. Rising star conductor Ben Glassberg doesn’t miss a trick in presenting Derek J Clark’s astute reduction of Humperdinck’s score for 20 musicians from the company’s orchestra.