BWW Review: HANSEL AND GRETEL at Opera in the Park with West Australian Opera
Opera in the Park is an event the city of Perth looks forward to every year, and 2020's performance of Hansel and Gretel was no exception. All eyes were on the skies in the lead-up to the night, and though the clouds looked threatening, they only provided a bit of additional atmosphere in the end. Also providing atmosphere was the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, with its open windows showing silhouetted figures going about their business, which served as a new (likely unintended) backdrop for this year's performance.
Of course, the show's real atmosphere was all in the hands of the West Australian Opera and WASO under the direction of Christopher van Tuinen, along with the extraordinary video art by Sohan Ariel Hayes, and sweet harmonies of the WAYV Children's Chorus. In the title roles were Ashlyn Tymms and Pia Harris, respectively, and their easy rapport made for some fun moments of sibling teasing and playfulness. In the dual role of Gertrude and the Witch, Fiona Campbell went from worried mother to evil fiend, a character which she seemed to embrace with relish, changing her vocal style to match.
In another dual role, Sarah Macliver gave us both the Sandman and the Dew Fairy; her headpieces by Kyle Meek were a wonder in themselves, the Sandman wig being a tall white bushy affair, and the Dew Fairy's headpiece featuring cascades of golden wattle. In the role of the Father, who is apparently a bit of a tippler, was Kristin Bowtell, giving us a solo not at all dissimilar to Tevye's "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof.
Humperdinck's nineteenth-century German opera gets an Aussie makeover with the help of an English translation and few word swaps in the libretto - though most notably, "forest" was changed to "bushland" in the surtitles, but was still sung as "forest," so I'm not sure whether this was the intended result. In any case, Hayes's animated art did most of the work in bringing the story to said bushland; grass trees, banksia, dead tree trunks, red ochre, all of these became a part of the visual story of Hansel and Gretel. The video projections went a long way in setting the scene in the absence of a full set, and they also infused the performance with a second layer of storytelling which complemented the piece and gave it a contemporary context.
Hansel and Gretel is especially suited to a family audience, so it was a smart programming choice for WAO's 2020 season, which aims to offer more content for young people than ever before. It makes for an excellent precursor to The Nightingale, an opera for young people, performed by young people, later in October.
Here's to WAO's annual free opera performance for all!
Hansel and Gretel was performed at the Supreme Court Gardens on 22 February, 2020.