Tuesday, 28 April 2015

HighTimes: Hansel and Gretel

Opera is not always regarded as an easily accessible art - perhaps
because of its theatrical complexity, or because the old audience tend to be aging enthusiasts, who freight the medium with ideas about its 'importance' as high art. However, a new professional opera company HighTime has been founded which 'actively seeks out those who might not currently have access to opera'.

Co-founder and stage director Felicity Green is passionate that audience development is a core aspect of the company's agenda.

'I feel that a lot of companies are driven by the aims and ideas of the artists rather than considering the audience's wants and needs,' she says. 'Whilst this approach works for some, we felt that because so many people feel that opera is not 'for them' we needed to spin this on its head, and put the audience at the centre of the company, in terms of tackling audience development head on and the development of the artistic product itself.'

The tension between artists and audiences, at least in terms of who gets to decide what defines 'quality art' is a problem that emerged most clearly in the nineteenth century, when Romanticism encouraged the artists to act like they were gods. This got worse during the twentieth century, when the avant-garde (supported by occasional guest on this blog, Adorno) decided to climb up its own arse. 

Green is more charming than I am in explaining why Hansel and Gretel is a good choice for  HighTime's first production. Using a tale more usually associated with fairy-stories, it can be suitable for all ages.

'It's an opera for and about children, but for and about adults too. It functions like all excellent storytelling - like a Disney Pixar movie - it works on two levels - children and adults will both get something out of it, but they might not be the same things.'

Working with a new translation of the libretto, this production adds a new character: in place of the witch, a Ringmaster becomes the villain, bringing a new angle to the story.

'The development of the Ringmaster was really a move away from the traditional stereotype of the witch being an old ugly woman,' Green adds. 'A villain who is glamorous, who is appealing to an audience, is far scarier in some ways, as it plays on your fears and your sense of judgement. To be seduced by a villain is much more unsettling than to dislike them outright!'

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