Female-led company Gothic Opera is returning to the stage in time for Halloween with a new production of French composer Robert Planquette’s Rip Van Winkle. This spooky folk-horror operetta opened to great success at London’s Comedy Theatre – now the Harold Pinter Theatre – in 1882. However, despite its popularity at the time, it hasn’t been seen in its English-language version since the 19th century.
The English libretto by Henri Meilhac, Philippe Gille and Henry Brougham Farnie was based on the short stories ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ (1820) and ‘Rip Van Winkle’ (1819) by Washington Irving. This new production is set in a community of settlers in the spooky Catskill mountains. It tells the story of Rip, the work-shy protagonist whose greed becomes his undoing. He falls asleep for 20 years and awakens to an unfamiliar world.
Gothic Opera’s version emphasises the juxtaposition of playful, charming music on the one hand, and unearthly phantoms, the unthinking destruction of the natural world perpetrated by interlopers, and a folk horror-esque colonial community on the other.
Newly written dialogue and a new chamber orchestration by composer Leon Haxby bring the work up to date, while preserving the humour of the original. This new production is directed by Evangeline Cullingworth; conductor Robin Wallington wields the baton.
Former MOCSA Young Welsh Singer of the Year, baritone Robert Garland stars in the titular role. He is joined on stage by French-Brazilian soprano Béatrice de Larragoïti as Gretchen, Rip’s wife, London-based baritone Stephen Whitford as Derrick, village lawyer and Rip’s rival, British soprano Alice Usher as Katrina, a village flirt, Hong Kong-born soprano Valerie Wong as Hans, Rip’s nephew, and British mezzo-soprano Hannah Bennett as Alice, Rip’s daughter.
Director Cullingworth described the production as “a kaleidoscopic romp through the chaotic construction of the United States of America, exploring the fools who forged on in spite of the horrors they’d left behind”.
The operetta will be staged at London’s Hoxton Hall, a former music hall which has previously hosted Gothic Opera’s 2021 production of Gounod’s La Nonne sanglante (The Bloody Nun, 1854). Cullingworth added that Rip Van Winkle promises to “bring Hoxton Hall back to its music hall glory days and embrace the origins of operetta as a riotously popular night out”.
Performances take place at 7.30pm from 27 October-1 November. It is sung in English with English surtitles and original spoken dialogue also in English. Tickets cost from £5 to £45 and are available from Hoxton Hall.
Baritone Robert Garland stars as the eponymous Rip Van Winkle in Gothic Opera’s new version of this long-forgotten operetta by Robert Planquette (Nick Rutter).