Hansel and Gretel

The magic and mystery of Georgia: Hard by a Great Forest, by Leo Vardiashvili, reviewed

In my drafts folder there languishes an email to The Spectator pitching a letter from a then-forthcoming trip to Georgia. That was, alas, the spring of 2020. So when I saw Leo Vardiashvili’s debut novel billed as ‘a winding pursuit through the magic and mystery of returning to a lost Caucasian homeland’, I leapt at the vicarious travel opportunity. Fleeing the disintegrating post-Soviet republic in the early 1990s, Irakli Donauri and his sons (though not his wife) arrive in London – Tottenham, specifically – where they are surprised to find ‘no top hats, no smog and no afternoon tea’. The boys grow up; two decades pass; their mother never joins

Irresistible: Hansel and Gretel, at the Royal Opera House, reviewed

Fun fact: Engelbert Humperdinck composed part of Wagner’s Parsifal. Shortly before the première, it was discovered that Wagner’s score didn’t allow time for a crucial scene change. The 27-year-old Humperdinck, then working as Wagner’s assistant, composed a few temporary bars to cover the gap and, rather to his own surprise, found that they met with the Master’s full approval: ‘Why not? It should work!’ It’s worth knowing partly because of the light it throws on the practical, collegial working methods of music’s favourite cartoon supervillain, and partly because it reaffirms the originality of Humperdinck’s own best-known opera, Hansel and Gretel. How many artists could have flown that close to Wagner’s