“Once upon a time, on the edge of a great forest, there lived a very poor woodcutter with his wife and his two children, Hansel and Gretel…”
What better way to begin a long weekend than inside a fairy tale!
Eat, relax, and fully immerse yourself
After delicious quick meal at a favourite local eatery, Joe’s Table in Darlinghurst, I wandered around the corner into the deep, dark woods of the Brothers Grimm’s Germany, recreated inside the SCEGGS Darlinghurst Great Hall by director Kate Gaul and the Pacific Opera crew. With a bit of imagination the hall rather resembles the inside of an old German home, with gable ceilings and wooden finishings, and its many columns were like the trunks of tall trees in the forest. It was a perfect venue for the first collaboration between two of Sydney’s most exciting youth ensembles, Pacific Opera and the Sydney University Symphony Orchestra.
On entry the events team, ‘Gingerbread Men’ Dante, Emillio and Mitch, offered a great selection of specially designed mocktails and snacks. Patrons could indulge in beverages such as Witches Tea “Turkish apple tea with sparkling apple and fresh mint” or Gretel Spritz “elderflower and rose cordial with a sparkling soda” and sweet snacks like Dew Fairy’s Delight “chocolate crackles infused with a squirt of Dew Fairy Magic”, with all the proceeds going directly back to the opera company, a not for profit organisation with the mission to cultivate the next generation of Australian talent.
You can probably tell I was impressed even before the overture to Engelbert Humperdinck’s timeless opera of the classic fairy tale began but it was clear from the outset that this was to be a truly professional standard performance as conductor Luke Spicer lead the orchestra (made up of university students of whom a majority are not actually studying music) adeptly through the opening bars and beyond.
The opera tells the familiar fairy story, Hansel and Gretel are packed off into the woods by their frazzled mother to look for strawberries for their supper, but the gloomy woods are where a wicked witch lives, who turns children into gingerbread and eats them. The children eventually triumph over the witch and it all ends happily ever after.
Very polished performance and technology integration
I was so excited by the pre-production delicacies that I forgot to look at the program, so I didn’t realise surtitles were available online via a QR code link until I noticed other people in the audience (rudely I initially thought) using their phones. But even though the opera is in German there was no mistaking what the characters were singing about, especially the irate mother (Carli Partridge) as she rebuked her wayward children and her drunken husband (Daniel Macey). Once I got my technology sorted and read the often hilarious text the production became rather pantomime-like. Rebecca Hunt as Hansel and Emily Turner as Gretel carried the show with relentless energy and childish charm appropriate to their characters and all the other principal parts had great stage presence and humour. The singers approached the complex counterpoint and many layered textures of the melodies with skill, producing a very polished performance.
I was particularly impressed by the orchestra, who played with great musicality and enthusiasm. They tackled the soaring Wagnerian moments (for example in ‘The Witch’s Ride’) and folk tunes with equal measures of vigour and competence.
The staging was simple but effective, and used the whole of the hall to great effect, which sometimes got quite intimate with the audience, in fact I was happy not to be in an aisle seat as I avoided being attacked by the Dew Fairy’s morning spray bottle (the conductor however didn’t, but luckily he took it with a sense of humour).
Well done SUSO and Pacific Opera on a very enjoyable and professional performance. I hope we see more collaborations between these two excellent young Sydney arts organisations in the future.