Contemporary. A word thrown around to mean modern, of the time and new age. When I got invited to see Hansel & Gretel the Opera, I was imagining songs in Italian, German or French. Rich heavy outfits, long high notes and lots of stuffy wigs. But this was no traditional Opera. It wasn't until I was sent the press release the day of the show that I saw the press photos and realised I had it all wrong. This was modern, a small cast. Set in one room, two grown women (yes Hansel was played by a woman - it was international womens day after all!) playing the parts of small children, a witch clad in a fur coat Pat Butcher would be jealous of and the use of a hand held camera that was giving me serious Blair Witch flashbacks!
The Opera starts with at least 7 solid minutes of orchestra music; now I don't know if this is normal for an Opera or if the cast just weren't ready yet but when the music swelled as if the curtain was about to rise.. nothing happened, and after the third time of me thinking 'oh.. not yet' I was getting a bit bored. The music was gorgeous don't get me wrong.. but i was just eager to start the show! Once the curtain finally rose we were met with a run down kitchen, boxes full of Christmas decorations and cleaning items everywhere like some kind of market stall challenge on The Apprentice was about to go down and two rather tall children.
I was firstly surprised by the fact there was a gentleman stood on the right hand side of the stage providing sign language for all the singing (which was so lovely to see) and two TV screens on either side of the stage with the words on so you knew exactly what they were saying. Which leads me onto my next surprise, it was in English. I don't know why I assumed it would be foreign but hey, I don't know much about Opera, this was my first experience! Hansel and Gretel started to sing about how hungry they were, how they were bored and longed for their favourite food, rice pudding. As they were running around the kitchen playing their mother came home, and she was no best pleased.
I really enjoyed the character of the mother as she reminded me of Ruth Jones! The mum and dad were both that sort of stereotyped poor, alcoholic parent but who still love their children. Unlike in the original story where the father takes the children into the woods and leaves them there, the mother has sent them out to pick berries and the father sings about the witch that lives in the wood and how they need to go and find the children before they get eaten!
There is a really interesting scene where they used the hand held camera and props around the kitchen to project a scene onto the walls and roof that transported you into the woods, it meant you knew where they were going without them really needing to leave the room or change sets. I thought that was really clever! Once in the woods the children realise they are lost and basically start to freak out! The sandman visits them giving them a huge teddy bear and sending them to sleep where they have a long dream that is projected onto the wall of two (real) children having a fun day at the beach! This is where we cut to the interval.
When they awake they find a house made of candy. This was such a clever set decision, the fridge in the kitchen swings open and is FULL of sweets, they set the camera down and project one of the shelves around the walls and roof of the set giving the whole place a candy house effect! From here the story introduces THE WITCH who is played by the same woman as the mum. The Witch was probably the funniest character of the Opera, her rhyming songs were on point and the way she used an electric whisk as her wand was genius. As sh*t goes down we see the children push the witch inside the oven which they then also stuff with fireworks and we see a big explosion.
I don't want to spoil the end for you as it's rather unique so let's jump into my final thoughts. The orchestra was beautiful, it complimented the whole comedy aspect of the Opera, the singing was faultless, some of the lyrics were a bit dodgy but the singing itself was wonderful and you could tell the cast were all really talented. The Storyline... let me down a little bit. I felt the first half dragged on a little and I have to be honest that the lady sat next to me (not my mum) actually nodded off and only awoke with the applause at the end of act one. The second half I enjoyed much more as there was more action and comedy. Would I see this Opera again? No.. but it was a good experience and was really eye opening to the types of Opera out there, it's not all wigs and capes!