Taking a child to Hansel and Gretel

20 Oct

I saw my first proper opera when I was eight (Barber of Seville, since you ask) and was hooked.  I’m a great believer in giving young children the opportunity to see opera – at that age, they’re not cynical and they find it easier to accept people singing rather than speaking and it’s all new and interesting.  Of course, it depends on the opera.  I’m not suggesting that you take them to Parsifal or Pelleas.

Glyndebourne obviously wasn’t selling its tour as well as usual this year and I was offered two seats for the price of one if I brought someone who had never been to Glyndebourne before and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  I have a nine year old niece whose mother does not like opera: let’s see if I can subvert that.  Rape of Lucretia obviously wasn’t suitable (I’m going on Friday) and Elisir might charm her or might bore her rigid.  I’m not great on Hansel and Gretel – a bit too Wagnerian, perhaps for a child (see my previous blog) – but the Pelly production is nice and it’s the sort of thing that might appeal.  I’ve taken her to plays and ballet before, successfully.  So I took the plunge and went to the child-friendly Sunday matinee on 20th October.

The weather wasn’t great and, perhaps, nine year olds probably aren’t that impressed by gardens and lakes, but she seemed to like the setting.  Tea in the Mildmay went down pretty well and so to the opera.  As I was watching, i tried to see it through the eyes of a child who had never been to an opera and didn’t know the music.

It’s difficult.  The overture is quite long, but it’s early enough on for you not to get bored – and watching a conductor is fun (we had a good view).  The opening scene with its cardboard box house isn’t too difficult – you may not understand the words but there’s plenty of movement and the action is pretty self-explanatory.  There’s then a knock-out animation for the Witch’s Ride, which cannot fail.  I thought the second act, again, was quite self-explanatory and the fear and terror came across pretty well.  The people in white eating hamburgers might have been confusing and,perhaps, by the end of Act II, the beautiful music may be wearing a bit thin.  On the other hand, the singers conveyed the terrors of that act really well.  The third act with its wonderful sweet shop of a witch’s house looks good, but I actually became aware of how long it is and I could understand why she might flag a bit.  Possibly the witch, with knives as well as junk food, might be a bit too frightening.  She also ought to have gone to the toilet in the interval, which probably made the last ten minutes a bit uncomfortable.  The surtitles were in rhyme, which really didn’t help comprehension.

Overall, however, she sat there still, watching earnestly and seemed to like it.  I asked if she’d like to go to another and she said she would.  She was impressed by the size of the voices, by the orchestra and conductor.  She assured me that she hadn’t been frightened.  I don’t think she was bowled over by the music.  She wasn’t worried by it being in German and said that the surtitles were fine.  She’s not a demonstrative girl but I think and hope she liked it.

What about me?  I like the Pelly production very much indeed – it’s assured and fun to watch and the effects are great.  The direction of singers is excellent.  It looks good and I rather hope that this isn’t its final outing here.  The Hansel and Gretel were excellent. Victoria Yarovaya has a gorgeous mezzo voice, looks convincingly boyish as Hansel and sang hugely impressively – I’d like to hear her again.  As Gretel, Andriana Chuchman struck me as having one of the purest, most beautiful sopranos I’d heard in a long time.  I’d love to hear her in Mozart (Zerlina, Servillia, Susannna) or Handel.  She acted a lovely hoydenish Gretel and I really enjoyed her singing. Anne Mason and Stephen Gadd were oustanding as the parents and Colin Judson had fun as the witch,  Angharad Morgan had fun as the Dew Fairy.  This was a really good cast.

I was a bit less taken with the conducting of Ilyich Rivas.  It felt very slow and I wanted more bounce to the dances – the fact that I was aware that Act III was a bit long suggested that he hadn’t quite got the pacing right.  On the other hand, he got some lovely playing from the orchestra; you heard the different textures and the counterpoints.  Even if Emma wasn’t irritated by the rhyming surtitles, I was.  Glyndebourne tried the same trick in Onegin and it really doesn’t help comprehension and feels tricksy.

So it was nice afternoon and, even if Emma doesn’t become an opera nut like her uncle, I hope she’ll have happy memories of it.



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