Classic fairy tales at the Grand Opera House
Opera North celebrates the timeless appeal of classic fairy tales with three brand new productions on the stage of the Grand Opera House from Wednesday 15 to Saturday 18 March: Rimsky-Korsakov’s rarely-performed The Snow Maiden, Humperdinck’s much-loved Hansel and Gretel and Rossini’s captivating Cinderella.
The chill winds of March make it the perfect time to visit a cosy theatre for an operatic version of the charming Russian folk story, The Snow Maiden. The daughter of Grandfather Frost and Spring Beauty, the young Snow Maiden – sung by Irish soprano Aoife Miskelly in her hometown debut for Opera North – wants nothing more than to live amongst humans, after meeting a shepherd boy, Lel (Heather Lowe). But she hides a tragic secret: her heart is made of ice and, if she falls in love, it will melt.
Director John Fulljames has reworked The Snow Maiden’s classic storyline in a contemporary setting, blending the boundaries between reality and fantasy. The opera, a Russian favourite, which is being professionally staged for the first time in over 60 years in the UK, features some of Rimsky-Korsakov’s most lyrical music, including the ‘Chorus of the Birds’, and the ‘Dance of the Clowns’.
Hansel and Gretel, the second piece in Opera North’s Winter season, is perhaps the best-loved of all the operatic fairy tales but there’s a dark twist to this story of two children lost in the woods. The music magically evokes the contrasting worlds of the story, from the daily struggle for survival of an impoverished family, to the world of the forest, both idyllic and full of danger; home to the terrifying Witch and her tempting gingerbread house.
In director Edward Dick’s new production, the action on stage includes hand-held cameras and live video; set against this modern technology is Humperdinck’s charming and melodic music, including the dizzying excitement of the ‘Witch’s Ride’ and the serene beauty of the children’s ‘Evening Prayer’. This production features one of Britain’s leading dramatic sopranos, Susan Bullock CBE, in the dual role of the Witch and the children’s mother, alongside Katie Bray as Hansel and Fflur Wyn as Gretel.
The third opera in the fairy tale season strikes a romantic note with Rossini’s sparkling comedy Cinderella (La Cenerentola). Dance is woven into the very fabric of the music, and this contemporary new production opens with Cinderella scrubbing the floor of a ballroom dance school. In Rossini’s work, it is music rather than magic that transforms Cinderella into a princess and enables her to deftly outwit her step-father Don Magnifico (Henry Waddington) and two cruel step-sisters.
This fresh, witty take on the Cinderella story is directed by multi-talented director and choreographer Aletta Collins, with two young international stars taking the lead roles. Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta is Cinderella, and fast-rising South African tenor Sunnyboy Dladla is her prince, Don Ramiro. Six young guest dancers from Belfast’s own Gillian Doogan School of Dance will also have their time in the spotlight.
The three fairy-tale productions will share basic elements of a highly adaptable set, designed by Giles Cadle, with the inventive use of video bringing the themes of transformation and magic to the forefront. From live video captured on-stage in real time in Hansel and Gretel, folk-influenced dreamscapes in The Snow Maiden, or a riot of colour and invention in Cinderella, the use of video will enable each of the fairytales to further blur the lines between reality and fantasy.
The flexibility of video design, with quicker turn-around times between performances, makes it possible for the Company to give an additional Saturday matinee performance of Cinderella, as well as a special matinee of Hansel and Gretel for Schools groups, extending and deepening the reach of this part of Opera North’s education and community engagement programme and allowing the Company to play to more young and family audiences.
Tickets begin at £18.75 and can be purchased in person at the theatre Box Office, online at www.goh.co.uk or via telephone on 028 9024 1919.