Hansel and Gretel, Grand Opera House, Belfast
Australian Chamber Orchestra, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
50 Years of Minimalism, Kings Place, London

A feisty staging of Humperdinck's opera lollipop is high on shock as well as sugar

A site-specific Tosca under its belt, and a co-production of Orpheus in the Underworld currently playing in London's Young Vic, Northern Ireland Opera claimed ownership of Belfast's Grand Opera House last weekend with Oliver Mears's production of Hansel and Gretel.

The trappings were modern: a white melamine flat-pack kitchen, a fridge decorated with alphabet magnets, the fat-knotted school ties and untucked shirts of feisty latchkey kids. But the themes were as old as the Grimm brothers' source material.

Written in 1892, a decade before Freud expounded his theory of sexuality, Humperdinck's Wagnerian lollipop is the ultimate opera for the orally fixated. Appropriate, then, that the Ulster Orchestra's toothsome account of the overture under David Brophy was accompanied by a descant of popping drinks cans and rustling sweets. Never mind the irony, this was a panto audience, eager for action, words, song. Mears's joyfully violent staging caught their attention instantly, every syllable of David Pountney's allusive translation crisp in the mouths of a largely home-grown, expertly balanced cast, the locally sourced Angels and Gingerbread Children heaven-sent.

Thrift is a virtue in this production, as the humdrum domestic items in Simon Holdsworth's set are transformed by dreams. Rearranged for Act III, the letters on Hansel and Gretel's empty fridge spell "Satan Gender Hell" as dutiful Gretel (Aoife O'Sullivan) and her lazy brother (Niamh Kelly) are seduced by visions of cream cake, gobstopper and liquorice. A sugar-paper drawing becomes the forest, a sinister stick-figure the Sandman (Rebekah Coffey). Gretel's Barbie doll is reborn as the twinkling Dew Fairy (Aoife Miskelly), the kitchen a pick-and-mix counter cornucopia.

What finer dish for the starved siblings than a silver platter of tête de maman? What stickier end for Graham Clark's rasping Witch than five minutes in a giant microwave? Are Peter (Paul Carey Jones) and Gertrud (Doreen Curran) bad parents or just hard-pressed? Mears suggests the former, his final provocation the glistening gob of spittle triumphantly hawked over the charred corpse of the Witch by Hansel. Hard to know whether to cheer or shudder. Impossible not to admire the chutzpah of the scarlet splat against the microwave door and the squeal of delight from the children in the audience. Panto or opera, Freudian essay or Wagnerian fairytale, Northern Ireland Opera continues to punch above its weight.

Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra took the Queen Elizabeth Hall by storm on the second and last UK date of its European tour. Cellists aside, the ensemble stands to perform, its players moving with the pulse of the music. There's a tang to the string sound that is almost Hungarian. Tutti chords start with a vigorous assault then swell accordion-like, the tuning bright and sour. It's audacious, gripping, a little brash, a Valentino clinch. But gosh, it makes you yearn for something still and pale, a chance to catch your breath.

Stillness and paleness were in short supply on Tuesday night, heard briefly in the sonata da chiesa quality of the Haydn encore and at greater length in Shostakovich's Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings. Soloists Simon Trpceski and Tine Thing Helseth sparkled in the slapstick burlesque of neo-classical arpeggios and tart fanfares, magnetic in the inconsolable sadness of the elegy. Arranged for string orchestra by Tognetti, Grieg's introspective G minor Quartet became a Janacekian outpouring of angst. Mozart's Symphony No 40 was similarly propulsive, the tempi fast, the woodwind elegant, the violas dark and true. You'd have to be awfully fit to dance a minuet at that speed.

Terry Riley's iconic 1964 work In C drew a capacity audience to the first concert of 50 Years of Minimalism. Long overshadowed by Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, which does the same thing but better, In C is an ecstatic series of contrapuntal figures and fragments that lasts for as long as the musicians want to play it, which was 20 minutes longer than I wanted to listen. Curated by Igor Toronyi-Lalic and starring Katia and Marielle Labèque, 50 Years was nothing if not flexible in its definition of minimalism or, indeed, of a half-century. Riley and Walter De Maria's musique concrète tapes book-ended the first programme, in which Satie, whose music has some minimalist qualities and is ideal for the moonlit lyricism of the Labèque sisters' playing, appeared. So, mystifyingly, did Ravel.

Unarguably an early example of minimalism proper, Colin McPhee's 1934-1938 Balinese Ceremonial Music for Two Pianos achieved the same moonlit sheen, as did the following night's performance of Howard Skempton's exquisite preludes and interludes from Images (1989), losing specificity in the process. At least Marielle Labèque kept a straight face. In Reich's Piano Phase a giggling Katia fell into sync with Nicola Tescari when she should have been out of sync.

Away from the grand dames of the grand pianos we had La Monte Young's 283 is for Henry Flynt and James Tenney's Postal Piece No 10: Having Never Written a Note for Percussion, both exercises in dynamics. Less pointful were the works by members of the Labèques' supporting band, Nicola Tescari's noodling Suonar Remembrando: Chaconne and David Chalmin's Gameland for electric guitars and amplified percussion, both written this year.

Having heard pieces from 1891 to 2011, many of them pretty flimsy, I felt 25 years of 50 years was more than enough and left at the interval of the second concert, ears bleeding.

Next Week:

One hundred years of Romanticism – Anna Picard hears the Arcanto Quartet play Schubert and Berg

Classical Choice

Nikolaj Znaider conducts the CBSO in Bruckner's Seventh Symphony at Birmingham's Symphony Hall (Wed). Enrique Mazzola, violinist Jennifer Pike and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra explore Northern Landscapes in music by Sibelius, Grieg and Hallgrimsson at Edinburgh's Queen's Hall (Thu) and City Halls, Glasgow (Fri).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions