Opera Scotland

Hansel and Gretel 1960Sadler's Wells Opera

Read more about the opera Hansel and Gretel

Friday night at the Glasgow Empire has been the subject of anecdotes from several comedians in times past, recording their memories of terrifying experiences performing at this famous home of variety. It was, it seems, a notoriously difficult audience to please. What did they make of Hansel and Gretel? At least the singers seem to have recovered from the experience in time for Tuesday’s show in Dundee.


Dundee Press View

Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Wednesday, October 25, 1960

Sadler's Wells in “Hansel and Gretel”

 'Few of the almost capacity audience at the Gaumont Theatre, Dundee last night (including the writer), had previously seen Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, although a good deal of the music is familiar. The Sadler's Wells production was, especially for touring opera, a marvel of stage craft: the only criticism warranted on the musical side was that often there was a good deal too much weight of sound from the orchestra pit. German composer Humperdinck, who achieved fame almost solely through this Grimm fairy-tale opera, assisted Wagner in productions at Bayreuth.  His scoring has a definite Wagnerian affinity, frequently grandly massive and using plenty of brass reinforcement (though there are some light-hearted and delicate passages too).

'The orchestral playing under John Barker was, as usual, first class technically.  But, as hardly anyone in the audience knew the words of the opera, the accompaniment would have served better to have been subdued enough to let us hear a lot more of them.  This, in turn, presents no criticism of last night's singers, all five principals being the possessors of splendid voices. As usual with anything in the Wagnerian cult, there is the perennial battle for the singers against orchestral sound - only solved if the latter is ruthlessly contained.

'The children asleep in the forest set the scene in Act II for a bewitching display of stage effects.  Producer Powell Lloyd's conception included a beautiful illusion with a long staircase leading up to a celestial light.  Then angels in gorgeous colourings, some with trumpets, circled the dreaming children, while the orchestra dispensed a tone poem reminiscing some Wagner and some Brahms. The sugar-candy house in Act III, with the witch's cage and cauldron in her front garden, was another ingenious sequence. There was a well-arranged explosion to disperse the whole apparatus once Hansel and Gretel had got the better of she who eats children.

'Honours among the singers were shared by Suzanne Steele and Iris Kells, two sopranos who contrived to be wonderfully juvenile while coping with operatic demands.  Both voices were engagingly bright and cleverly managed to simulate boy and girl. Sheila Rex, a powerful mezzo-soprano, strove mightily to get the witch's words across, but, like the others, succeeded only partially.  Otherwise, one admired her ample voice and the skill of her characterisation. John Hargreaves gave a fine display of dramatic singing amid something of an orchestral avalanche in Act I, when he appeared as father of the children. Rita Hunter, as the mother, matched well in incisive effect.'


Sadler's Wells Opera's Scottish Tours - 1960

Sadler's Wells Opera made two visits in 1960.  In spring there were three weeks - Edinburgh (King's) followed by Aberdeen (His Majesty's) and Glasgow (Empire).  In October a week in Glasgow (Empire) was followed by a week in Dundee (Gaumont).

The ten operas performed on thess tours were:  Mozart (Don Giovanni);  Rossini (Barber of Seville,  Cinderella);  Wagner (Tannhäuser);  J Strauss (Fledermaus);  Puccini (Bohème,  Madam Butterfly);  Humperdinck (Hansel and Gretel);  Giordano (Andrea Chénier);  German (Merrie England).

Edinburgh, w/c 29 February:  Mon 29 Fledermaus;  Tue 1 Mar Cinderella;  Wed 2 Tannhäuser;  Thu 3 Don Giovanni;  Fri 4 Cinderella;  Sat 5 m Fledermaus;  Sat 5 e Bohème.

Aberdeen, w/c 7 March:  Mon 7 Fledermaus;  Tue 8 Don Giovanni;  Wed 9 Cinderella;  Thu 10 Bohème;  Fri 11 Tannhäuser;  Sat 12 m Fledermaus;  Sat 12 e Cinderella.

Glasgow, w/c 14 March:  Mon 14 Cinderella;  Tue 15 Tannhäuser;  Wed 16 Bohème;  Thu 17 Fledermaus;  Fri 18 Don Giovanni;  Sat 19 m Fledermaus;  Sat 19 e Cinderella.

Glasgow, w/c 17 October:  Mon 17 Barber of Seville;  Tue 18 Andrea Chénier;  Wed 19 Merrie England;  Thu 20 Barber of Seville;  Fri 21 Hansel and Gretel;  Sat 22 m Merrie England;  Sat 22 e Madam Butterfly.

Dundee, w/c 24 October:  Mon 24 Merrie England;  Tue 25 Hansel and Gretel;  Wed 26 Barber of Seville;  Thu 27 Madam Butterfly;  Fri 28 Andrea Chénier;  Sat 29 m Barber of Seville;  Sat 29 e Merrie England.

Performance Cast


Suzanne Steele


Iris Kells

Gertrude mother of Hansel and Gretel

Rita Hunter

Peter a broom maker and father of Hansel and Gretel

John Hargreaves


Jean Manning

Dew Fairy

Beryl Cornish


Sheila Rex

Performance DatesHansel and Gretel 1960

Map List

Empire Theatre, Glasgow | Glasgow

21 Oct, 19.00

Gaumont Theatre | Dundee

25 Oct, 19.00

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