In Rehearsal for High Time’s Hansel and Gretel

Posted on 22 April 2015

Two University of Warwick graduates turned professional directors are on a mission: to bring opera to Coventry. Working in association with the Belgrade Theatre, their first production, will run from 7-9 May in B2.

Keen to instill a love of the arts in the younger generation, the company are also giving 60 children from schools across Coventry their first taste of opera, with the chance to perform in the chorus of the production. The young people will appear alongside internationally-acclaimed professional singers, whose credits include the Royal Opera House, English National Opera and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition.

Ahead of the show’s opening, we caught up with magician and actress Charlotte Ireland, who plays Hansel in the show, to discuss more about bringing Hansel and Gretel the opera to the stage.

“And around the fair no one would dare, would dare to leave little children there…”

From the very first scene, High Time’s production of Hansel and Gretel sets itself apart from what audiences have come to expect from this classic German opera. Whisked away from the realm of the Grimm fairy tale witch and her house of gingerbread, our street-wise kids are instead lured by a magical circus Ringmaster with his promise to supply them with all that 21st Century kids could dream of; Fame and Hot Dogs.

As performers, exploring this dark and dangerous new world means not only diving head-first into the complex musical structure of the piece, but also getting to heart of the text and our characters. Throughout rehearsals we’ve been working with High Time’s witty and intelligent new translation into English written specifically for this production. The text provides us with a very clear concept of the piece and is written with attention to how the characters must develop over the whole course of the opera. The new text challenges us as singers to ‘signpost’ these developments, and, in Hansel and Gretel’s case, communicate to the audience the moments when they progress from insular, selfish children to complex, compassionate young people.

To begin to achieve this, our scores were hastily abandoned as we moved around the rehearsal space exploring the possible physicalities of our characters; their habits, their ticks, their levels of physical awareness. Imagine seven opera singers crawling around on their hands and knees pretending to be animals. Not something you see every day. Which is precisely the point. Rather than simply falling back on ‘acting scared’ or ‘acting excited’ as you see in so many opera productions, working in this exploratory ‘workshop’ style that is so commonplace in non-musical theatre provides us with the opportunity to bring something raw and real to the stage. Which is what High Time is about, after all.