CHILDREN abandoned deep in a sinister wood; an evil witch intent on devouring them. Brothers Grimm fairytales always had dark hearts. It was Hansel And Gretel, however, that captured the imagination of German composer Engelbert Humperdinck and inspired him to write his most famous work.
Humperdinck (no relation to the 60s pop star who adopted his name) was born in Siegburg, Germany, in 1854. He died 67 years later, leaving Hansel And Gretel as his greatest legacy.
Humperdinck’s opera began life as four songs composed to accompany his nieces’ puppet show. Based loosely on the Grimms’ tale, he then extended those works into a singspiel (song play) of 16 songs. The complete orchestration followed a year later and Hansel And Gretel premiered on 23 December, 1893.
Next week, at the Festival Theatre, Scottish Opera present director Bill Bankes-Jones’ new English translation of the piece, which returns to the opera’s roots, with dialogue true to the original libretto.
Irish soprano Ailish Tynan sings Gretel and admits she is looking forward to singing in her native tongue.
“I sang the role in German a year ago at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,” she explains. “Bill’s take on the opera is completely different to that of my last directors, so it’s lovely to have that difference.
“I’m not fluent in German, but in that last production a good German coach would teach you what everything means and then how to say it properly.
“Performing in English makes it much more immediate. You can interpret things in so many different ways. It was a completely different Gretel I found this time. The last one was very bolshie and didn’t fall for the witch’s tricks, whereas this Gretel is very easily led astray and only too happy to follow the witch when tempted with goodies and treats.” Those treats include marshmallows.
“I’m partial to the odd marshmallow but after this production I doubt I’ll ever want to see one again,” she laughs. “I’ve actually put on 5lbs during the production - we had to keep rehearsing the marshmallow scene over and over. I must have eaten about 100 marshmallows.”
Tynan believes Hansel And Gretel is the perfect introduction for opera novices.
“This production is a fantastic night out, especially if you’re not used to opera. I’d highly recommend it and I don’t often say that about an opera.”
Hansel And Gretel, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday, 7.15pm, £16.50-£67.50, 0131-620 0000