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HANSEL AND GRETEL (article first published : 2003-12-4)

Hansel and Gretel, the first major production by the University of Natal Opera School and Choral Academy (OSCA), is being presented in association with The Playhouse Company over the festive season.

Now as much a traditional Christmas piece as is Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera was first performed in 1893. Whereas the Brothers Grimm story has the mother cruelly sending her children into the forest alone, the opera has the youngsters getting lost while looking for berries.

Directed by Brenda Lauth and conducted by David Smith with Andrew Warburton at the piano, Hansel and Gretel allows Durban audiences the opportunity of seeing the wide range of operatic talent coming from the Academy.

Lwazi Ncube has already begun to carve her name on the operatic scene and her experience shows in a contained and well-sung performance as the mother. Selby Hlangu as the father has a powerful voice and is a major talent to watch. I could have done with less of the character’s drunken staggering around as it put him at a disadvantage vocally.

The Sandman was charmingly played by Nozuko Teto. Nonhlanhla Mthimkhulu, an elegant and graceful Dew Fairy, is set to be one of OSCA’s top graduates. Mhlaba Buthelezi was a delight as the Witch and shows good dramatic skills.

Of course, the production belongs to the title roles. After their initial nervousness when diction was almost imperceptible, Ntokozo Xaba as Gretel and Zanele Gumede as Hansel (the role is traditionally played by a mezzo), settled down and went on to give strong and consistent performances. Their scene when they discover the gingerbread house had much sparkle and fun.

There is an alternate cast which includes Lauren Dassappa, Busisiwe Khuzwayo, Nomveliso Nocuze, Bonginkosi Cingani, Nolubabalo Tantsi, Smangele Mkhize and Makhosazana Humbane.

The opera has been cut from its full length for this production and the result is an easily accessible introduction to opera that is ideal for young audiences. There is also sufficient action and a familiar storyline to keep them fascinated without realising that they’re watching opera, a normally fairly formidable music style.

I do urge audiences to see this production. It affirms the need to bring opera back into the fold in South Africa. Far from it being a Eurocentric form, it has a major part to play in showcasing the talents of young black singers whose voices are well suited to this genre.

Hansel and Gretel is presented in the Playhouse Loft Theatre from December 3 to 28. Tickets R25. Book at Computicket. More information or block booking discounts from Eubulus Tracy on 082 877 4627 or e-mail: eubulustracy@yahoo.com - Caroline Smart




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