Music by Engelbert Humperdinck
Libretto by Adelheid Wette
based on the story in the Grimm brothers’ Kinder und Hausmarchen
Stage Directed by Eric Einhorn
Conducted by Ward Stare
At the Lyric Opera of Chicago
Dark journey takes Grimm’s fairytale into a melodic first class opera
While an assistant to Wagner, Englebert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera, Hansel und Gretel contains influences from Wagner but is a distinctly original take on the fairytale. The libretto was written by his sister, Adeliheid Wette, who was fascinated by fairy tales. Featuring two women playing the children – soprano Maria Kanyova as Gretel and mezza-soprano Elizabeth DeShong as Hansel, the opera is in terrific hands. These two combine the zestfulness of children with the wonderful voices to carry their vocals over Humperdick’s melodic imaginative score. Once they two dance and sing – we love them.
They are bored with work around the house and they act like children but when their mother, soprano Julie Makerov, arrive home, she scorns them. She also accidentally spills the milk that was to be dinner so she sends the children to the forest to pick strawberries for dinner. Poverty and hunger are clearly at play here. When the drunken father, baritone Brian Mulligan arrive home with food after he sold his wares for a huge profit, mother tells him that she sent the children to the forest. he tells her about the witch as both travel to the forest to find their children.
Act Two finds Hansel picks strawberries and admits to Gretel that he has lost his way. Ad darkness approaches, The Sandman, soprano Emily Birsan sprinkles sand in their eyes bringing sleep. The children’s evening prayer was wonderfully sung to the haunting music form Humperdinck. The children dream of food as fourteen bakers arrive with loads of food fit for a king.
Act Three opens with The Dew Fairy, soprano Kiri Deonarine, wakening the children with song. She is the idealized mother both children wish for. They then see the witch’s house and they are lured in by the wicked witch, played with zest by mezzo-soprano Jill Grove as a Julia Childs type gone mad. Grove is fabulous as the crazy witch determined to fatten up Hansel before turning him into an gingerbread child. She sings the “Hoop, hoop, hoop” in a manic flamboyant performance. Dark humor abounds here. But Gretel’s witch instincts allow her to catch on the the witch’s motives. Gretel slowly gains the witch’s powers as she is determined to save her brother form becoming another gingerbread child. So when the witch asks Gretel to look into the over, she pretends that she doesn’t understand to the witch opens the oven door to show her. Gretel and Hansel push her into the flaming oven. An explosion occurs and all the gingerbread children come to life and sing their joy. Mother and father find the children and all express their gratitude.
Hansel und Gretel is filled with charming melodic music that contains gentleness, sweetness, as well as dark motifs. Humperdinck used German folk elements together with original folk tunes to flavor his opera. The score demand much vocal dexterity and Kanyotova and DeShong delightfully have that element in their fine performance. I was thrilled by the darkly comic work by Jill Grove as the manic witch. Brian Williams’ father was also appreciated. At only two hours and twenty minutes, Hansel und Gretel is a worthy opera to introduce children to the joys of grand opera. It was nice to see many children ans teens at the opening performance. Hansel und Gretel will captivate all audiences, young and old.
For more info checkout the Hansel and Gretel page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Lyric Opera of Chicago.