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<<  -- 3 --  Rex Harley    INFUSED WITH MAGIC

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Act 3 contains the major action: the children's seduction and imprisonment by the witch; their successful fooling of her; and her death and transfiguration -- (in her own oven) -- into a harmless piece of gingerbread. The witch's house was a tour-de-force, scrumptiously edible and incorporating the frozen figures of her earlier victims. It was typical of this thoughtful production that the other children were effectively used in each act, rather than merely performing in the final ten minutes. Their total stillness as totemic figures was uncanny. It may be stretching the point, but I was reminded of the severed heads adorning the house of another exemplar of humanity gone to the bad: Mr Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Jane Streeton as Gretel (right) and Maria Jagusz as Hansel in front of the Witch's house in Longborough's 'Hansel and Gretel'. Photo © 2005 Stephen Wright
Jane Streeton as Gretel (right) and Maria Jagusz as Hansel in front of the Witch's house in Longborough's 'Hansel and Gretel'. Photo © 2005 Stephen Wright

But what of this monster, the child-eating witch? Her costume, like her house, suggested pantomime, and so did her movements and gestures. She was the dame, and there were times when one felt she really could be a man in drag -- (not so fanciful, as in one recording of the piece, her part is taken by tenor Peter Schreier). This grotesquerie was most effective, lending a distinctly black humour to some of her lines. As for the singing, Jenny Miller is possessed of a powerful voice. Indeed, one reviewer has dubbed her 'the Janis Joplin of opera', a somewhat double-edged soubriquet: after all, no-one could call Ms Joplin subtle.

Left to right: Jane Streeton as Gretel, Jenny Miller as The Witch and Maria Jagusz as Hansel. Photo © 2005 Stephen Wright
Left to right: Jane Streeton as Gretel, Jenny Miller as The Witch and Maria Jagusz as Hansel. Photo © 2005 Stephen Wright

Mind you, neither is the witch. Unlike Hansel and Gretel, she should be a caricature, and Miller combined comedy and menace most effectively. Physically, she dominated the stage; vocally she was notably less shrill than some better known names who have recorded the role. The only, slight problem lay with her diction which, by the incredibly high standards of the evening as a whole, was a tad muddy.

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Copyright © 27 July 2005 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK

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