Oh to be a child again.
I saw the opening night of the Canadian Opera Company’s new Hansel and Gretel tonight before a delighted sell-out crowd at the Four Seasons Centre. While there were children present both in the show & in the audience, we were all given ample opportunities to regress a few years.
It’s a make—believe Hansel & Gretel because we’re encouraged to use our imaginations.
While a romantic & realistic staging –where you see woods & angels & witches –might offer more in the way of story-book magic, there is ultimately something stultifying about a literal rendition of such an opera, to say nothing of the risk of kitsch.
Director Joel Ivany and his creative team – Costume Designer Ming Wong, Lighting Designer JAX Messenger, and Set & Projection Designe S. Katy Tucker –went in an entirely different direction as we heard in Ivany’s recent interview.
The opera is set in modern-day Toronto. How does one reconcile that with the fairy-tale, the witch, and the forest? I think if you’re a child this is less of a problem. Indeed maybe that’s a lesson for those resistant to Regietheater & modernized interpretations. If you watch through the eyes of a child, you’ll have a much better time.
You have nothing to lose but your stipulations.
I was especially taken by the performance of Russell Braun as Peter, the children’s father, a baritone who’s been mostly playing tortured unhappy people for the COC over the past decade. I was reminded of his lovely singing as Chou En Lai in Nixon in China when he is the gentle voice of kindness & hope. The voice rang out tonight with a beautiful colour, no doubt helped by the acoustic support offered by the set design.
But it’s a team effort. Krisztina Szabó as Gertrude is a perfect partner for Braun. Simone Osborne as Gretel looked & sounded wonderful. Emily Fons as Hansel was a remarkable actor, although I think we all enjoyed Michael Colvin’s Witch the most, both dramatically and for some brilliant singing. Anna-Sophie Neher was enjoyable as The Sandman & Dew Fairy.
Johannes Debus led the COC Orchestra in a lyrical reading of the score.
I’ll be seeing it again, and suggest that anyone with imagination check this out.