Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Hansel and Gretel- Wit, Flair, Style

At Mid Wales Opera

Mid Wales Opera , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , March 23, 2023
At Mid Wales Opera by Mid Wales Opera The storm clouds are glowering; the rivers are brimming; north and west are sundered with the bridge at Machynlleth uncrossable.

And Mid Wales Opera is fifty miles away from home a-touring. The elements to make a company thrive are not difficult; a strong board; constancy of purpose; conserve the best of the old while selecting the best of the new.

Richard Studer and Jonathan Lyness have access to communication tools beyond the conceiving of Keith Darlington in the company's founding era. A trailer is now pretty much mandatory and that for “Hansel and Gretel” is polished and informative.

Jonathan Lyness is author of a 1200-word essay on the production*.

The introduction describes now the opera was indebted to the composer’s sister, Adelheid Wette. She wrote short plays for private performances, with her children often involved. In 1888 she wrote a version of the fairy tale Schneewittchen (Snow White) and asked her older brother Engelbert for musical settings for some of her verses. That was the root of their collaboration on “Hansel and Gretel.” It was premiered on 23rd December 1893 in Weimar with Richard Strauss conducting.

Yet all the benefices of the cyber-age cannot substitute for the core values of flair, dedication and musicianship.

The production pulls off something of a coup in augmenting a touring cast of eight with no less than twenty-one singers. The finale is turned to a great burst of choral song. Admittedly the new stage arrivals are youngsters but they can sing. The company has reached out to every venue on the tour and recruited, trained and rehearsed a chorus drawn from the locality. Coaches and helpers for Aberystwyth are Rachel Blair, Hannah-Rae Seaton, Laura Oliver and Annalisa Biagini.

Richard Studer is his own designer. Village and dark wood are cast either side of the cusp of the prosperous 'sixties. Philip Smith's Father ascends to the pithead and a Lowry-esque land. Repossession men in colourless arrivals take away the television on its spindly legs. Charlotte Badham's Hansel, not minding the loss of a screen, sets to glueing a balsa wood aircraft model. Alys Mererid Roberts' Gretel devises her own dance-game. Both young singers display a nimbleness of footwork.

Rebecca Afonwy-Jones' mother has little to offer by way of sustenance. “Supper a simple matter. Empty cut, empty platter.” She doubles, with a touch of Freudian unsettlement, as the witch. Against stereotype this witch is a Home Counties horror in a twin-set suit. The wand she waves to immobilise the lost children is an egg whisk. In an artful piece of design the pit building is unclipped to reveal a fitted kitchen of yellow melamine. She trips with relish around her giant mincing machine.

Inbetween, the dark wood is made of expressionist trees, lit by Elanor Higgins to cast haunting Di Chirico shadows. While Hansel is spooked by a silver birch consolation is on hand from Siân Roberts' Dew Fairy and Beca Davies' Sandman.

“Hansel and Gretel” was performed in seventy-two venues within the year of its premiere. The score, given its full lusciousness by Ensemble Cymru, is threaded with melody. A high point is the scene ending where the two children kneel touching side by side to offer up their evening prayer.

The tour continues to the Courtyard, Hereford (18th), Ffwrnes, Llanelli (21st) and the Riverfront, Newport (23rd).

* The introduction can be read in full at:

For a guide to past productions see the link below 16th July 2021.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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