Hansel and Gretel

Thu 10th – Sat 12th November 2011

reviews

Katie Coleman

at 03:45 on 11th Nov 2011

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Oftentimes when people hear the word "Opera" uttered, they immediately think of complex and elaborate plots driven by wailing divas in somewhat foreign tongues. Durham Opera Ensemble's production of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, however, proves to be anything but foreign. As a classic children's story performed in English, the tale is easily accessible to the audience regardless of their operatic knowledge.

The outstanding performance of the overture by the orchestra sets the mood nicely, while beautifully illustrating the admirable precision and grace this ensemble possesses. As the curtain opens on Hansel (Polly Leech) and Gretel (Elen Roberts) we are immediately presented with two talented vocalists. Both characters possess excellent tone quality and complement one another beautifully. The petulant behavior of Hansel provides us some levity to the performance, however, it does sometimes overshadow the rest of the scene. The supporting cast was well selected, with a particularly strong vocal talent found in Daniel Tate's performance as Father.

At times the show's pace is perhaps a bit slow for most audience members as the story is such a familiar one. Additionally, I found the English libretto to be lacking, however, the inspired performances of the cast greatly make up for any shortcomings that may be found the libretto. The "prayer" duet between Hansel and Gretel at the end of Act 2 was particularly moving. Leech and Roberts play off of one another's vocal strengths beautifully while still managing to master balance and tone. While my disappointments with this show were few, the most outstanding issue was the lack of volume balance that occasionally occurred between the orchestra and the vocalists. Unfortunately, I fear this is an issue with the space rather than the performers, as this is a difficult balance to achieve in such a small venue.

The minimal set complemented the performances nicely allowing the actors to be the primary focus on stage. The set designer handled the task of making a somewhat daunting and fantastical set suitable for such an intimate space quite adequately. Additionally, the lighting choices assisted the plot very well and the costumes easily reminded the audience of this story's German origin. A great deal of acknowledgement to the success of this show must go to Musical Director Calum Zuckert and Director India Furse. The care and passion this team and the performers they directed have for Humperdinck's music is evident in every minute of the show.

Overall it was an enjoyable experience to see a well-loved children's story brought to life with such skill and outstanding musicianship. If you have an interest in opera, or if you just like a good fairytale, swing by the Assembly Rooms and enjoy a night of music and lore with the Durham Opera Ensemble.

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