The Brothers Grimm macabre tale of Hänsel und Gretel which became an inspired opera by Engelbert Humperdinck in 1893, is now being revived by the Lyric Opera to amazing success. This version, one which is quite a bit darker in tone from productions past, was first mounted in 2001 and is co-presented by the Welsh National Opera. This revival features two leads from the amazing Ryan Opera Center; mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong and soprano Maria Kanyova. Together, the hungry siblings are perfectly paired, creating an instant likeability that carries them through the opera.
As in the Grimm version, brother and sister are thrown out into the dark woods by “Mommy Dearest” after they spill what is left of their food and neglect their chores. The wood is dark and haunted, which is evidenced by their arrival to what appears to be a lovely house of cake, but instead is inhabited by a evil witch who wants nothing more than to make a sibling meat pie. The children rise up and defeat witchy-poo at her own game and release the other captured children from their horror.
John Macfarlane’s foreboding painted drops along with sets of gray and white make this Hansel und Gretel psychologically and symphonically stunning. Director Eric Einhorn mirrors that of Richard Jones’ original production and has brought together a definitive cast. Joining Ms. DeShong and Ms. Kanyova is the sensational Julie Makerov as their Mother and buff baritone Brian Mulligan as their concerned but equally as hungry Father. Finally, mix together Paula Dean, Hannibal Lector with a little Mrs. Lovett and you come up with Jill Gove’s hilarious and delicious portrayal of the Witch, of which there is no better.
The one thing that has always remained constant about live theatre is that performances takes place at a time certain. World wide events can have an effect on the actual material being viewed thus giving it a different interpretation. The performance I attended happened only a few hours after the horrible shootings in New Hope, Connecticut, which left 26 dead, 20 of them being children. Thus, watching the opera took on a very different meaning than it would have should it have been just another average day. Instead, watching the children rise up from their oppressor was quite emotional and in a way, very relevant and moving.
Hänsel und Gretel continues through January 19, 2013 at the Lyric Opera, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-332-2244). For more information visit www.LyricOpera.org
Join Lyric in helping the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Beginning November 30, paper grocery bags will be available for audience members to fill with donated food items. The bags can then be returned to the box office lobby of the Civic Opera House from 12-6pm December 7-21, as well as during the performances listed on the Lyric website. Food donations will also be accepted at any of the 300+ food drive drop-off locations throughout the city.
Photo Credit: Dan Rest