Hänsel & Gretel - Royal Opera House Covent Garden, 9 December 2008 (opening night)
The Sandman of Pumeza Matshikiza and Dew Fairy of Anita Watson were charming, but neither could avoid the odd scratchy note. Nerves? Both are well cast and should improve as the run goes on.
But Anja Silja was the star of the show. The voice is not the most accurate or the most beautiful, though in darn good shape for someone who's been singing professionally for fifty years. Her witch has a panto look, but a disturbingly authentic menace. I know the opera, I know the story, but as with all great actors, I never quite knew what Silja was going to do next.
Or was Sir Colin Davis the star of the show? He drew a wonderful performance from the orchestra, somewhat stately in pace, but deliciously nuanced. Some people think Hänsel und Gretel is just a cute children's opera; for Sir Colin it's a gateway drug to Tristan und Isolde. The score may not have Wagnerian heft, but it has a driving narrative thrust and glimpes of real harmonic invention. Sir Colin whipped up the drama where needed - the terrifying explosion of the witch's kitchen brilliantly handled - but the gentle lyricism of the dream scene, or the bouncing mock-Viennese waltzes rang just as true. If there was magic in the air, it was all in the pit. Can Robin Ticciati and the second cast match up?