Catrin Lewis (Gretel) & Olivia Bell (Witch)

The innovative Opera Anywhere – now approaching its 20thanniversary – has come up trumps again with this lovely production of Hansel and Gretel, Humperdinck’s operatic version of the famous Grimm brothers’ fairy tale.

Director Serenna Wagner (who also plays Mother) has drawn on the themes of evacuees and triumph over adversity to reimagine the piece as a Second World War story, in which two young children, Harry and Gracie, enjoy a last Christmas with their parents before war breaks out and shatters their happy, harmonious existence.

The family is torn apart as the father goes off to fight and the children are evacuated to live with a cruel foster mother. But they still have the fairytale book their parents gave them for Christmas, and when they open it magical things start to happen …

Serenna Wagner & David Jones as Mother and Father

The overture and other musical interludes lend themselves to mime sequences following Harry and Gracie’s adventures, while the rest of the opera runs along traditional lines, creating an interesting pair of parallel worlds that is extremely effective.

The mime sequences are extraordinarily moving, but the opera itself is full of fun and mischief, with a mainly professional cast doing full justice to the story and to Humperdinck’s sublime score. 

Freya Jacklin-Edward and Catrin Lewis are hugely entertaining as Hansel and Gretel, singing and acting with gusto and achieving a convincing sense of sibling rapport. Olivia Bell handles the dual roles of Ms Lickspittle, the cruel foster mother, and the Witch with panache, the latter both comic and deliciously sinister. Serenna Wagner’s strongly-sung Mother tugs on the heartstrings as she mourns her missing children, while David Jones, a particularly fine baritone, is full of joie de vivre as the Father. 

There are some lovely contributions, too, from local talented youngsters, most notably Rosina Gill-Wagner and five-year-old Rafael Gill-Wagner as Gracie and Harry. There is also strong support from the three-piece band directed by Nia Williams.

The minimalist set is cleverly adaptable and deftly switches between the two parallel worlds, placing the action firmly in the 1940s or in the midst of the Grimm brothers’ fantasy. Jane Miller-Robinson’s artwork for the witch’s kitchen and Tristan Stocks’ gingerbread house are particularly gorgeous, ensuring that this production is both an aural and visual feast.

If you missed it in Sunningwell, you can catch it at Waterperry Gardens on Sunday September 15 – and you will be in for a treat. https://operaanywhere.com.

NICOLA LISLE

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