HANSEL AND GRETEL...IN CONVERSATION WITH REBECCA AFONWY-JONES
Mid Wales Opera’s Fairy Tales season culminates in a new production of Humperdinck’s late nineteenth century classic Hansel and Gretel. Based on the Brothers Grimm’s fairy-tale, two children are banished to the enchanted woods by their hungry, frustrated parents. There, they wander into the clutches of a wicked witch determined to fatten them up and turn them into gingerbread, only to be outwitted at the last moment.
Hansel and Gretel will visit the Torch Theatre on Thursday 16 March at 7pm. To find out a little bit more about the opera, the Marketing Team caught up with Rebecca Afonwy-Jones who plays the Mother and the Witch…
As a piece, what excites you about Hansel and Gretel?
It’s a familiar story that has been passed down through childhood fairy tale telling so everyone broadly knows what happens and what to expect. We get the chance to communicate this age old cautionary tale, through the extra magical dimensions of music and singing, heightening the drama.
Is it new to you? How do you feel about learning the work and getting ready to tour?
I have played Hansel before in another fantastic English translation, so the beautiful music came flooding back, despite it being more than ten years ago. It’s been an exciting challenge preparing two roles in one opera – a bit like learning Jekyll and Hyde...the mother and witch are more similar that perhaps we’re prepared to admit. I am looking forward to finding the extremes in both their characters and finding out how this unfolds in rehearsal.
What do you think audiences will get out of seeing the opera?
I think they will love watching a story that they have known for years, examining the characters’ traits and enjoying the musical motifs that are associated with each of them. Humperdinck creates such a wonderful, haunting, magical atmosphere from the first note of the overture that they will feel instantly like they are in another world. For any Wagner fans, there are plenty of sweeping melodies and exciting interludes that will remind you of this more expansive and dramatic style that we don’t always have the opportunity to bring to smaller venues.
Could you talk a bit about the nature of your role?
It’s a real challenge to present the stark reality of a struggling mother who is tired, bad tempered, hungry and very possibly in a difficult marriage. These are things with which audience members could identify to varying degrees and I feel it’s my job to make this as real as possible, without making her a caricature. The Witch, if you like, represents the B- side of the Mother and could be glamorous, ghoulish and strangely vulnerable all at once. This is the beauty of such a multi -faceted character, that she can be approached in myriad ways and indeed, historically, has been sung by a soprano, mezzo soprano or a tenor! The vocal range is quite extraordinary and I am really looking forward to pushing the dramatic boundaries with how we interpret both these women on stage so that the audience feels really drawn to them.
Could you share any connections or stories, no matter how trivial they may seem, with any venues or parts of Wales where MWO is touring?
When I was a child we used to see all kinds of things at Theatr Hafren and I have watched various BBC NOW concerts and of course MWO shows to support colleagues in the past but I have never performed there. Given that it’s the nearest theatre to my home – approx 12 miles! – it will be a lovely occasion and I think a few local friends and relations might find their way there to cheer us on!
Years ago, we used to holiday at Borth which is still a favourite place and so we used to go to the summer shows at Aberystwyth, which I always found very inspiring as a teenager. I did an emergency ‘jump-in’ as Carmen for MWO in 2014 and sang from the pit, so I have technically sung there, but it will be nice to be actually on the stage this time! I’ll be staying with friends and relatives as we tour around, or I’ll just be driving home after shows, which will be a real and wonderful novelty. Touring normally means lots of nights away, arriving very late into hotels and leaving very early the next morning to get to the next venue or arrive in time for a practice call...it’s all glamour, right?! I shall be delighted to get home and see my beloved dogs!
Additionally, I know that, so far... I also have friends and family coming to Theatr Clwyd, Newport, Milford Haven, Hereford and Brecon, so hopefully there will be some hearty cheering as we wend our way around our beautiful Cymru Fach and its borders!
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