Scottish Opera on adapting Hansel and Gretel for the digital stage

Scottish Opera on adapting Hansel and Gretel for the digital stage

Scottish Opera's Hansel and Gretel / credit: Richard Campbell

The company's Head of Music, Derek Clark, discusses the challenges staging opera in lockdown and preserving the score's complexity

Usually, reductions of symphonic proportion in orchestral scores come into their own in venues too small to fit a full orchestra, or maybe to save money by having to pay fewer players or situations when not enough players are available. From 2020, social distancing now enters that list. Fortunately for Scottish Opera, who continue to offer digital performances over their 2020/21 season, one score that fits the bill beautifully is the seasonal fairy tale Hansel and Gretel.

In an arrangement originally made by Head of Music, Derek Clark, for smaller-scale touring venues, Humperdinck's score in its reduced version enables the Orchestra of Scottish Opera to rehearse and perform in their Theatre Royal home, with space to be suitably socially distanced. Due for release in January, all the favourite characters appear – the children, sandman, the dew fairy and the obligatory wicked witch.

'It's a challenge,' says Clark, 'but a challenge to be solved. It's amazing to do an opera in lockdown and make it work.' The approach to taking a full score and achieving success in a cut down version can, he says, go two ways. 'You can pick a combination of instruments and make the music fit. Or, you can try to replicate the sound world of the original with fewer instruments.' Clark opts for the latter, adding, 'When you've got two instruments instead of four, for instance, you've got to be a little bit clever to make the audience think it's four.'

The colour-laden, rich sound of a composer whose music is infused with Wagner is but one of the challenges. 'It's children's music,' Clark says, 'in that it's about children, but that's actually very difficult, as it's not childish music and can be very complicated in places. The music is based on little motifs, which are passed from instrument to instrument and the reduced score has to keep that going. It's great to bring the whole thing to life.'

Scottish Opera's digital concert performance of Hansel and Gretel will be available to view from January 2021. Their full winter programme will be available to view at