REVIEW: Hansel and Gretel at Nottingham Theatre Royal

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Fans of Opera North are in for an extra treat this year with Nottingham being one of five venues to stage Puccini’s thrilling, final opera Turandot, writes Tony Spittles.

However, before this rarity takes comes to town at the Royal Concert Hall on Friday, May 5 (it was last staged in Nottingham more than 20 years ago by Welsh National Opera) there’s an early musical bonus this week as the Leeds-based opera company dazzles and delights with three, dark fairy tales.

The curtain went up last night (Wednesday) at the Theatre Royal with the first of this must-see threesome, Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, which uses designer Giles Cadle’s adaptable and inventive sets enhanced with video magic to bring an age-old story to the present day.

This was the composer’s only operatic hit, but what a gem it is with a ten-minute overture heralding a melodious backdrop to the Brothers Grimm story of a playful brother and sister who find that life is heady mix of good and bad as they get lost in the forest.

The transition from happy, but poor family life, to the eerie forest was given an added angle as Hansel (Katie Bray) and brother Gretel (Fflur Wyn) used a hi-tech, hand-held camera to highlight and magnify their playful antics that bring them into the danger zone.

That was personified by Susan Bullock, one of Britain’s leading sopranos, who excelled in the dual role of the scrimping and saving mother and more menacingly as the forest’s wicked witch whose aim was to cook and eat Hansel and Gretel when they went to the forest to find food.

The mix of fantasy, magic and modern-day reality continues tonight (Thursday) with a fresh take on Rossini’s sparkling comedy Cinderella (La Cenerentola) as the prolific composer’s up-tempo score provides a breezy backdrop to poor Cinder’s rags-to-riches story as she spites her cruel-stepsisters.

The warmth of this feelgood production is contrasted on Friday by the chilling theme of another operatic masterpiece, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snow Maiden - last staged professionally 60 years ago - which focuses on the maiden of the title, who is the daughter of Grandfather Frost and Spring Beauty.

But beneath her beautiful and warm exterior, there lurks a hidden secret - her heart is made of ice which will melt is she ever falls for the warmth of human love.

Details of ticket prices and times for this four-day stopover, which finishes on Saturday with a matinee performance of Cinderella and an evening production of Hansel and Gretel, can be obtained by calling the Theatre Royal box office on 0115 9895555 or by visiting www.trch.co.uk

The same contacts can also be used to get tickets for Turandot on Friday, May 5, as well making an early booking for the company’s autumn visit in Nottingham when the three, double-bill line-ups will include Ravel’s lyrical and surreal L’Enfant et Les Sortileges coupled with Janacek’s rarely-staged Osud; the traditional double header of steamy sex and Sicilian sun in Leoncavallo’s thrilling and shocking Pagliacci and Mascagni’s intense Cavalleria Rusticiana, contrasted with courtroom capers in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial By Jury and the American Dream that goes sour in Leonard Bernstein’s one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti.

Photo by Robert Workman