Infused with magic
REX HARLEY is entranced by
'Hansel and Gretel'
at Longborough Festival Opera
This was a genuinely magical performance, so good in so many ways that it is hard to know exactly where to begin: perhaps by pulling the thesaurus off the shelf in order to ensure some variety in the list of superlatives!
Even before the first notes floated up from the orchestra pit, the set had impressed. At its centre was the woodcutter's house, a strange but entirely successful blend of distorted Expressionist perspective and 1950s Disney animation; and it was already peopled with ghostly children, their heads wrapped and invisible -- a foretaste of the sinister goings-on later in the opera. During the overture they moved as if blown by some invisible wind, tumbling and swirling around the stage. Meanwhile, Peter the woodcutter knelt in the pose we would later see him adopt when searching anxiously for his own missing children. As for the music, the orchestra, under the direction of Paul McGrath, was playing with a precision and subtlety quite astounding in a group assembled for a single, short season.
A scared Maria Jagusz (Hansel, left) and Jane Streeton (Gretel), in Longborough Festival Opera's 'Hansel and Gretel'. Photo © 2005 Stephen Wright
Enter Hansel and Gretel -- (Maria Jagusz and Jane Streeton) -- bursting with character and beautifully matched vocally. Throughout, they managed to capture the gestures and facial expression of children whose moods are as changeable as the weather -- wonder, mischievousness and fear moving rapidly in and out of focus -- without once crossing the invisible line into caricature. Their mutual teasing was both comic and touching, all the more so in the contemporary English translation, which they delivered with natural and faultless diction.
Copyright © 27 July 2005
Rex Harley, Cardiff UK