Saturday, June 21, 2008

Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel"

A friend Conrad Chu is conducting the Brooklyn Repertory Opera in its performance of "Hansel and Gretel," and I heard the opera (in English) for the first time this afternoon. I enjoyed it very much. The orchestration was lush and dramatic. It included set pieces like folk songs, dances, and prayers. Wikipedia says that the opera was originally composed as a Singspiel, consisting of a play with 16 songs and piano accompaniment. Based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, the opera depicts the harshness of poverty, temptations conjured up by our needs, metaphysical loneliness, and victory over death.

Mother, played by Kahtleen Keske, rose to tragic heights when she sang of not being able to feed the children. Played by a terrific Mathew Yohn, Father was a drunken figure from comedy ("Tra-la-la-la-la!"), who brought food home in triumph only to find out from his wife she had sent the children into the woods to gather their supper. The music in Act II was enchanting, especially the cuckoo song, but I did not feel that the corp of 4 ballet dancers--first representing the trees, then the protective angels, finally the rising sun--added much. They seemed transplanted from another art or mode. The Sandman, who sent the children to sleep, and the Dew Fairy, who woke them, also felt like add-ons, more color than structure. Perhaps my feeling is due to this particular production. In Act 3, the witch was a hilarious Francis Liska dressed in drag. The comedy in this final act anticipates the opera's optimistic ending.

Today's performance was also my first visit to the Brooklyn Lyceum. A former public bath, it has been refitted to be a center for sports, film and the performing arts. The bathrooms are basic. The ticket office is the tiny cafe. The performance space, with its exposed brick, its old stone staircases at all four corners, its assortment of folding chairs and benches, is assertively alternative: it has a big heart.

Music: Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921)
Libretto: Adelheid Wette & Constance Bache

Hansel: Marcella Caprario
Gretel: Pamela Scanlon
Mother: Kathleen Keske
Father: Mathew Yohn
Sandman: Mary Jane Dingledy
Dew Fairy: Stefanie Izzo
Witch: Franicis Liska


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