Glyndebourne may summon up images of finery and glamour, long intervals and extravagant picnics, but the Sussex opera house's autumn tour presents a different face to the world: a more relaxed, casual atmosphere where opera can be enjoyed by a wider audience at a much more affordable price. This year marks the 45th annual Glyndebourne tour, with three productions of the highest quality on offer, and Hänsel und Gretel gets things off to a rollicking start.
Venezuala has already produced one conducting wunderkind in the shape of Gustavo Dudamel, who has become a worldwide sensation, and it seems there's another waiting in the wings. Twenty-year-old Ilyich Rivas, a protégé of outgoing musical director Vladimir Jurowski, conducts a glowing and warm performance, finding rich Wagnerian echoes in Humperdinck's wonderfully melodic score. With a maturity way beyond his years he draws glorious playing from the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra. Recently appointed as Assistant Director to the LPO, Rivas is certainly one to watch and and it'll be interesting to hear what he can do with more demanding material as his career progresses.
There's plenty to enjoy about this revival of Laurent Pelly's 2008 staging too. Barbara de Limburg's sets are astonishing, from the ingenious battered cardboard box that serves as home to the children and their impoverished parents to the Witch's house, a galleon of gluttony and paradise of sweet delights to tempt any hungry child. Banks of supermarket goodies reach for the sky, forming a tower of consumerism and carrying a health warning that getting what you want has its dangers.
It may be the second tour outing for the production but, under revival director James Bonas, all is fresh and bright, helped enormously by the superb performances of Victoria Yarovaya and Andriana Chuchman as the imps lost in the woods. Canadian Chuchman, new to Glyndebourne and the UK, is a radiant stage presence with a gorgeous voice and Yarovaya's mellow mezzo complements her perfectly.
Colin Judson's bald and hairy-bellied Witch is a grotesque Roald Dahl creation and there are quality characterisations from Stephen Gadd and Anne Mason as the sort of parents that social services would be interested in. Chorus soloist Lauren Easton is a memorable white-faced Sandman and Angharad Morgan a goofy green Dew Fairy. The singing is uniformly excellent.
The only jarring moment in this colourful and imaginative production is the sharing of Macdonalds burgers by the troupe of angels who look over the sleeping children, which seems a step too far for the consumerist imagery. Otherwise, anyone catching the show at the brief Glyndebourne run or the subsequent national tour is in for a real treat.