Le Petit Verre is a new student opera company, composed of students from both Edinburgh and Napier Universities, that wants to do smaller scale operas to give students a chance to appear on the stage. Its first production is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, based on the Grimms’ fairy tale.
Staged in the Assembly Roxy, this is a very stripped down production, the singers on the stage with a screen as backdrop, showing the gingerbread house. The major flaw with this approach is that the orchestra, of around 25 players, is arranged on the left of the audience, often making it difficult to hear the singers on the stage. The orchestra, composed of student musicians, is a little ragged to begin with, but under the direction of conductor Caroline Leseman-Elliot, it gets better as the opera progresses.
Over the years, Hansel and Gretel has been subject to many operatic interpretations, such as a child abuse interpretation produced by English National Opera some years ago. However, it is difficult to say what interpretation director Carey Andrews was trying to achieve in this production, other than perhaps a slapstick one, with the the actors sending up their roles. Also, this production appears to rearrange the plot, using what may be flashbacks or flashforwards, for example, the parents arriving to rescue Hansel and Gretel in one scene, only for Gretel to strangle Hansel in the next! Oh well, if you can’t experiment in student opera then when can you?
As for the singing, it is of varied quality and audibility. Hebe James as the witch, has no difficulty being heard and is perhaps the best voice on the stage. Alexandra Elvidge (Gretel) has a good voice that usually makes itself heard, despite the number of sweets and gingerbread she has to eat! However, it isn’t clear what interpretation Elvidge is trying for, as she seems somewhat detached from the plot. Hansel, sung by Claire Lumsden, is often difficult to hear, as she is drowned out by the orchestra. Patrick Dodd as the father, has a good clear voice, and others in the cast make a good attempt to keep our interest in an often confused production.
The objective of Le Petit Verre to give students a chance to perform in smaller scale operas is admirable, but it would benefit from a clearer focus and more rehearsal time. Also, the Assembly Roxy is a challenging venue for opera, and a more suitable venue, such as the newly refurbished St Cecilia’s Hall perhaps, would be worth finding.