REVIEW – OperaBox’s Hansel and Gretel – by Rosalind Appleby

Fairytale hits the right notes

Reviewed by Rosalind Appleby
on the 29th May 2014
for the West Australian
3 stars
Review of OperaBox’s Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck
Conducted by Christopher Dragon//Directed by Sarah McKellar
Perth Town Hall

Opera performances are too rare in Perth and I am obviously not the only person pleased to welcome the recent emergence of grassroots companies such as OperaBox and Lost and Found Opera.

The Perth Town Hall was sold out for the opening night of Hansel and Gretel, OperaBox’s fourth production since the company was founded in 2011.

Engelbert Humperdinck’s operatic version of the Brothers Grimm fairytale is a strange mix of childish innocence and high art with its gingerbread house, Wagnerian leitmotifs and an angel ballet.

The production was simple, vigorous and appealing. The production moves location for each performance so the makeshift set by Olivia Tartaglia and Rhiannon Walker relies on flats transformed by twinkling fairy lights (the forest scene) and gingerbread stick-ons (the Witch’s house).

First-time opera director Sarah McKellar added modern touches. Hansel and Gretel skipped around in overalls and beanies and the Witch wore furs with a wand doubling as a cigarette holder a la Cruella de Vil. But the updating was mild; there were still lederhosen and a gingerbread house.

A cast of seasoned stage performers inhabited the stage confidently. The resourceful Jenna Robertson sung Gretel with a winsome smile (she also produced and marketed the show) and Alexandra Bak was a boyish Hansel stomping and frowning while singing with rich rounded tone.

In an enchanting Act II ballet scene the children were lulled to sleep by dancing angels (choreography Claire Thomas) and the Sandman appeared in puppet form (a nod to McKellar’s R&J puppet production at the Perth Fringe Festival) operated and sung by Emma Taylor who also sung the Dew Fairy.

Thomas Friberg was endearing as the concerned Father rushing into the wood to find his lost children. Eva-Marie Middleton’s flexible mezzo soprano was warm as the weary Mother and shrill as the cackling Witch. Her prowling presence dominated Act III although her centrepiece dance Hurr hopp hopp hopp felt too polite.

The rich sound of the 30-piece orchestra (conducted by Christopher Dragon) was appreciated in moments such as the rousing number celebrating the death of the Witch. A professional pianist or small ensemble would have lifted the standard but perhaps compromised the company’s aim to provide opportunities to emerging artists, itself a major achievement.