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German kitsch with a dash of Psycho


Hansel and Gretel

Royal Opera House, ★★★☆☆

THE Witch’s house is very obviously based on the Bates Motel. The ragged children’s chorus are 1930s Kindertransport refugees. The rest of the production makes cutesy visual references to cuckoo clocks, Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, dirndls, blonde plaits, log huts and all manner of other German kitsch. Confused? You will be, if you take a punt on Antony McDonald’s ho-hum new production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel at the Royal Opera.

First the positives. Musically there’s plenty to enjoy. Hanna Hipp (Hansel) and Jennifer Davis (Gretel) showcase rich, soaring voices, and bring childlike energy to their roles. Michaela Schuster and Eddie Wade (replacing James Rutherford) are vocally terrific as the tetchy mother and father, and if the role of the Witch lies a shade too low for Gerhard Siegel, he makes up for it with campy panto fun in his performance. Conductor Sebastian Weigle is hazy on orchestral detail, but provides competent support.


Then there’s the staging, which starts in ultra-traditional German storybook mode: uninspired but safe. Suddenly a host of ballet dancers, dressed as familiar fairytale characters, make a surprise entrance, adding nothing to the main story. Then there’s the Hitchcock riff, then the Kindertransport Holocaust reference… So many suggestions, and so little clarity of purpose.

Even that might not matter if the magic effects were better, but they’d be laughed off stage in a provincial panto. The destruction of the Witch (here she falls into a giant cauldron of chocolate, like Augustus Gloop) is slow and creaky, and packs as much punch as a sock of old porridge. Boo! Hiss! In repertoire until December 29