Hänsel und Gretel – opera in three acts to a libretto by Adelheid Wette after the fairytale by the Brothers Grimm [sung in English]
Hansel – Rozanna Madylus
Gretel – Maud Miller
Mother – Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz
Father – Ben McAteer
Sandman / Dew Fairy – Raphaela Papadakis
Witch – Roisin Walsh
Reviewed by: Mark Valencia
Reviewed: 5 April, 2013
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s, London
The tell-tale lack of an Umlaut on Hänsel’s name hinted that this would be an English-language concert performance of Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera, first staged in Weimar in 1893 conducted by Richard Strauss. In LSO St Luke’s the use of the vernacular allowed half-a-dozen fine young singers to communicate the Grimm brothers’ fairytale with playful characterisation and perfect enunciation, but along the way they had to contend with the fustiest of superannuated translations (Constance Bache’s pre-Edwardian version, I suspect). Peppered with bygone turns of phrase (“Cross-patch away!”) and painful close-rhyming of the ‘peeping’/’creeping’ variety, in lesser hands it could have scuppered the evening. If that seems like nit-picking, it is because from a purely musical standpoint this Hansel and Gretel was superb.
Harry Ogg is a name to conjure with and a talent to relish. With an authoritative demeanour that belied his strikingly youthful appearance he conducted the university and music college students (past and present) of Sinfonia d’Amici as though they belonged to the Berlin Philharmonic – and they responded in kind. I was reminded of Daniel Harding, another prodigy whose charisma in the early years belied his mien, when Ogg launched into the opera’s Overture with an élan of flow, sweep and attention to detail. There were no young-man’s histrionics, just a sure navigation through romantic seas guided by the deftest of hands on the tiller.
Hansel and Gretel is a shrewd choice for a concert performance, and not only for its simple, direct storytelling. The brilliant scoring ensures that a good orchestral account is a spectacle in itself, here with the added thrill that comes from watching gifted young artists excel. The homogeneously dashing horn section was outstanding, and there were notable solo moments from Emma Halnan (flute) and Konrad Elias-Trostmann (leader) among the uniformly fine section principals.
All six solo singers delivered fully-rounded performances and sang with grace and individuality – and, in the case of Ben McAteer as Father, something more. This remarkable young baritone, who was runner-up at the 2012 Kathleen Ferrier Awards but has yet to complete his studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, is of a calibre that bespeaks a great future. Yet he did not eclipse his colleagues: Rozanna Madylus and Maud Miller were radiantly paired in the title roles, Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz was their assertively steely Mother and Roisin Walsh an efficiently nasty Witch under a Ku Klux Klan mitre. Raphaela Papadakis contributed an exceptional pair of cameos as the Sandman and Dew Fairy while the well-drilled children of Young Voices added their own valuable dimension to the prevailing excellence.
If Ogg had placed his podium a metre or two downstage, rather than behind the soloists’ backs, we might have been spared the distracting gestures and looks he gave to his singers at potentially tricky moments; but there was little else to take issue with (aside from a superfluous video interlude during the ‘Traumpantomime’) in a delicious evening of aural gingerbread.