Leeds Grand Theatre is a truly stunning building and the perfect setting for literally any type of production, so Opera North are extremely lucky to have access to the venue. The grandeur of the building is breathtaking and it can’t help but get you excited for whatever you’re about to see.
Admittedly I had no idea what to expect from this. The very uttering of the word “opera” conjures grand images of tragic stories and women wailing at the top of their lungs. Those preconceptions went out the window the moment the curtain lifted…
Hansel and Gretel is a story known to basically everyone, so don’t expect any shocking twists or turns, this is a strictly “by the book” recreation of the heart warming Disney version. So if you’re looking for cooked children and gruesome endings then you’ve come to the wrong place.
The singing was incredibly impressive, with voices that I’m sure never failed to reach up into the gods. The songs were entertaining, particularly the song by the drunk father (portrayed by Stephen Gadd) and the music was very complimentary. In fact I could write a whole review just based on how much I enjoyed the orchestra, as a pianist I understand just how much work has to go into something like this.
I was extremely apprehensive when the video camera came out and it was live streamed onto the surrounding scenery, it felt gimmicky and made me cringe inside. Perhaps I’m a purist, I expect opera to be very traditional, so this took me out of my comfort zone. HOWEVER, this apprehension soon vanished once Hansel and Gretel began their trip through the forest, the video camera became an ingenious tool to simulate a scene change without having to create a pause in the proceedings.
This was done again to create the witches house, and worked extremely well. It allows the production to only create one set and then in seconds transform it into different locations.
I’ve also got to commend Katie Bray (Hansel) and Fflur Wyn (Gretel) for having such impressive voices that easily rival their more senior co-stars.
There is one person I most certainly can’t leave out in this review, and that’s Susan Bullock. She played the roles of both the mother of the children and the Witch and did both exceptionally well. Her portrayal of the Witch was both humorous and also sinister, which isn’t an easy combination to pull off. Watching her force feed Hansel sugary treats is easily a scene that will stick with me.
As someone who is usually rather critical then it came as a great surprise to discover that the majority of negative points I’d jotted down during the performance didn’t come from the performance itself. Granted the choreography wasn’t as strong as I was expected, especially since it comes from the very talented Gary Clarke (Coal), but these are highly skilled opera singers, not dancers.
My main criticism was the slow trickle of latecomers through the first 20 minutes of the first half, all of which seemed to have to come sit near me. Followed up by some of them then having a chat, followed by what seemed to be a texting session. This clearly disturbed quite a few people around me as there were lots of glances across at the man illuminated by his phone screen. A device that stops mobile phones from turning on within a theatre (or cinema) would be a winning Dragons Den invention. We are big Deborah Meaden fans.
Overall this easily gets 5 out of 5. It opened last night and will continue until the 25th of March. You’d be a fool to miss it!