Hänsel und Gretel, Holland Park, London
Eliogabalo, Grange Park, Hampshire
Roberto Devereux, Holland Park, London

Packing the kids off to the woods for berries makes sense in Holland Park's wartime opera fairytale

Bacon, butter, eggs and beans. Flour, sausages and onions. Simple pleasures for most of us but paradise for Getrud and Peter, the hard-pressed parents in Stephen Barlow's Second World War staging of Hänsel und Gretel for Opera Holland Park.

After English National Opera's VE-Day Peter Grimes and Glyndebourne's post-war Falstaff, we should be used to ration books and utility suits, carefully darned stockings and stiff upper lips. But Barlow's 1940s fantasy is the first to open with the wail of an all-clear siren and two little gas masks, and the first of the recent wave of Hänsel und Gretels to present this darkest of fairytales from a child's perspective.

Paul Edwards's monochrome set designs are dominated by a vast four-panelled door. The handle is above head height, the skirting-board knee-high, the delicately shaded wallpaper an Arthur Rackhamesque dream of silver beech trunks with sinister faces traced in their boles.

It must have been a handsome home before the war. Now the pantry is bare and the children that the silver-haired brush-salesman Peter (Donald Maxwell) and his Dolly Messiter-ish wife Gertrud (Anne Mason) clearly waited a long time for – and maybe couldn't bear to send away as evacuees – have become a source of guilt and frustration. Who wouldn't cry over spilt milk when that is all there is for supper? Who wouldn't bury their nose in a bag of real coffee after months of chicory or acorns? And who, in the 1940s, wouldn't send their children out to gather berries unaccompanied?

Diligent and slightly priggish, besotted with her older brother, all knock-knees and jazz-hands in "Brüderchen komm tanz mit mir", Joana Seara's pig-tailed Gretel is a touchingly accurate eight-year-old girl, Catherine Hopper's tousle-haired, tough-guy Hänsel as easily distracted, unselfconcious and full of bravado as any 10-year-old boy. Sweet of voice, with beautifully direct diction and a radiant blend in the Evening Prayer, both singers convey a heartbreaking predisposition to happiness. Lulled to sleep by a Sandman in a sapper's uniform (Katherine Allen), serenaded in their dreams by the lollipop-bearing angels of the New London Children's Choir, and woken by a splash of soapy water from the Queen Alexandra nurse that is the Dew Fairy (Pippa Goss), their glee at the Battenburg pink-and-yellow gingerbread house resonates as strongly as their terror at what ensues.

For all the sophistication and perceptiveness of Acts I and II, Act III is pure storybook. With Mason doubling as the Witch, Barlow could have turned this into something rich with Freudian complexities. Instead, she is a lime green Edna Everage. If the children detect a resemblance to Gertrud, this is not made clear. Despite the pairs of empty shoes that tumble from her pram, hers is the least Auschwitzian oven I have seen in a production of Hänsel und Gretel and the opera has the most unequivocally happy ending. Under Peter Selwyn, the City of London Sinfonia deliver a cosy reading of the score, with some lovely details from the cellos, though the brass sounds more Elgarian than Wagnerian. Provided you can stand a stab of guilt if you've snapped at your children over breakfast, and provided they haven't been traumatised by the gas masks in Doctor Who, this is a very family-friendly show.

Unlike Eliogabalo. All Muscle Marys and biker clones, massage tables and tanning booths, sequinned G-strings and strap-ons, PVC and pole-dancing, David Fielding's X-rated production for Grange Park Opera appears to have been modelled on Vauxhall's modern-day pleasure gardens.

It's as good an analogue as any for the court of the cross-dressing, sexually omnivorous Eliogabalo (Renata Pokupic). But the nastiness of Cavalli's 1668 opera, which includes several brutal murders, is revealed too late to shock an audience high on high camp, champagne picnics, six-breasted statues and animatronic owls.

In the pit, Christian Curnyn seems anxious not to bore, zooming through the sensuous passacaglias, only slowing down when Claire Booth's Eritea spits, snarls and swoons her revenge arias.

Julia Riley makes a mean Alessandro, while Pokupic's lithe star turn is energetically supported by Tom Walker as a Pauline Calf-alike nurse Lenia and Ashley Catling as the tittering Zotico.

Back at Holland Park, Donizetti's Roberto Devereux is this year's Italian rarity. From the overture's ornate extrapolation of our sturdy National Anthem to the succession of pseudo-Baroque fugues, this is not a work for those to whom historical authenticity matters, though the score – performed with woodwind and brass to the right of conductor Richard Burgess Ellis, and the strings to the left – is exquisite. Designed by Peter McKintosh, Lindsay Posner's production moves at a stately pace. Eye contact is minimal and Yvonne Howard's gentle Duchess of Nottingham is the only principal to act when not singing. Excepting a bloodcurdling roar of "Va!", Majella Cullagh wisely saves her brittle, highly cultivated voice for Elisabetta's "Quel sangue versato", while Leonardo Capalbo's self-regarding Essex drifts about like a gust of expensive cologne.

"Hänsel und Gretel"/ "Roberto Devereux" (0845 230 9769) to 19/20 Jun. 'Eliogabalo' (01962 737366) to 5 Jul

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform