Review: HANSEL AND GRETEL, Royal Opera House

A beautiful escape into a fairy tale come true

By: Dec. 18, 2023
Review: HANSEL AND GRETEL, Royal Opera House
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Review: HANSEL AND GRETEL, Royal Opera House As charming and uplifting as it is dark and brooding, Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera Hansel and Gretel is always great to see - and Antony McDonald’s production, first performed in 2018, is an utter delight.

It simply oozes glamour and matches perfectly the opera’s quintessentially Romantic music. Eerie forests cast in twilight, cluttered huts, and old-fashioned costumes mix and mingle to give audiences a feeling of watching something straight out of the 19th century. 

Nevertheless, the production frequently draws attention to the fact that this is a fairy tale, rather than real life: in a bit of metafiction, various characters read from a book of Grimm’s fairy tales throughout the opera - including Hansel himself in act I - and in the dream sequence in the forest, the children see various fairy tale characters, among them Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and others.

Especially McDonald’s sets juxtaposed with Lucy Carter’s lighting create an enchanting atmosphere. From the forest to the witch’s house, each piece of design builds a moody and fantastical whole that is a feast for the eyes - even if the Gingerbread House ultimately looks perhaps a tad too spooky to be tempting to the kids in real life, considering it has a giant knife sticking in the roof!

Review: HANSEL AND GRETEL, Royal Opera House
Hansel and Gretel © ROH 2023. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Humperdinck’s music is always a blast, teeming with many earworms that most people probably have heard before, even if they might not know the opera. It’s high Romanticism and sounds like that - it’s a large score with great melodies and plenty of sensuality - sometimes almost comically so. Mark Wigglesworth conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House with tremendous finesse; it’s gorgeous to listen to.

The cast, too, stun throughout. Anna Devin as Gretel and Anna Stéphany as Hansel are a dynamic duo who master their surprisingly difficult roles with ease and convincingly portray the mischievousness of the children throughout. Rosie Aldridge as the witch is hilariously tongue-in-cheek villainous; it’s always intoxicating when she’s on stage and shown to be absolutely in charge - right up until the very last moment, that is. 

There is little to complain about in McDonald’s production. Sure, it emphasises tradition, but for a children’s or any other opera that’s not necessarily a bad thing; and it does so in a refreshingly modern way: it’s aware of what it’s doing and doesn’t simply hand itself over to nostalgia, but instead creates a dazzling performance.

With a great cast and a memorable production, it’s an experience that can be enjoyed by all audiences - especially families with children, who will love every moment of it. In McDonald’s Hansel and Gretel, each scene is a beautiful escape into a fairy tale come true.

Hansel and Gretel is at the Royal Opera House until 7 January 2024. 

Photo Credits: Tristram Kenton


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