Two More Holiday Numbers


Reviews by Polly Hope


One of my most favourite operas, complex and modern with its dysfunctional and impoverished family abandoning their kiddies. The situation has hardly changed, though has perhaps become urban rather than rural. Years ago David Pountney did a brilliant production for English National Opera set in a London park today. The Sandman was flogging drugs…

But back to Düsseldorf. The present production is thirty-seven years old! Yes, I did fact check that. A friend who came with me said she remembered coming to see this production as a teenager. They need a new production; and before next Christmas. The whole evening was so dreadful from the dreary playing of the magnificent score, through the toe curling acting of a couple of older women singing Hansel and Gretel, the sick making angels and the pantomime dame of the witch. It would be cruel to give names to these performers.

As for the set, well dusty is hardly the way to describe it. I hope by mentioning this production at all the opera house will scrap what I saw. Hansel and Gretel is part of Christmas in Germany, both parents and children expect magic. They are being very short changed.


The following night saw the premiere of Gilbert and Sullivan's Gondoliers. What an amazing choice for a German opera house. The jokes are so English, as are the politics they all sing about and Gilbert's lyrics are untranslatable. To give the opera house its due it had commissioned a British duo to direct and design the production. Also the lyrics are left in English with the linking text in German. I don't mind several languages being used, it can even add to the richness of a production.

However this production doesn't fly and will never be a success in Germany. To begin with the director, Dan Jemmett, has turned the production into a game of charades at the end of Brighton pier. A large cast, for some reason dressed in 1930's bathing suits, are all playing about on the beach. Then a couple of gondolas appear and skid around a kiosk on the esplanade high up above the main stage. For goodness sake where are we? Gilbert had specified 1750 Venice as the place, so Brighton in the 1930s is nothing but confusing. All the political digs and religious humbug simply do not fit the 21st century, well unless they are carefully woven into the period the work was written in. It isn't Shakespeare and doesn't take happily to being mucked about with. Nothing wrong in changing the time and place of plays and opera, I am all for it, but there has to be a reason and a conception not just a mere decorative joke. Dick Bird's beautiful set must have used up most of the money for the 2005/6 season. Act 1 and we are on the beach with the pier away in the distance and Act 2 we are inside the theatre at the pier's end. Excellently realised, but pointless.

The singers are all excellent and their handling of Gilbert's verse was clear and precise. Even the singer's English was better than what is usually heard in British opera houses. What a relief to be able to hear every word, even of the patter songs. Gwendolyn Killebrew was magnificent as the Duchess and looked gorgeous.

Hats off to the Oper am Rhein for giving this a try. Pity everyone concerned had to try and be so clever rather than letting the piece be simply itself.

The orchestra must have had a few bottles of energy juice as they played the score exceeding well under the baton of Martin Andre. Light and refreshing it sounded, just as it should.

Polly Hope Dusseldorf. December 2005