Admission #1: I’ve seen an opera about once every 10 years of my adult life, or about four of them. Admission #2: I’m not a fan of weird musical phrasing sung in high registers. And truth be told, I love a spectacle, which is what ALO’s “Hansel & Gretel” surely is at the Long Ctr. And it is, after all, a worldwide favorite.
A pre-teen’s commented as he exited Friday night’s performance: “Boooo-ring.” Sorry. Can’t agree. The score by composer Engelbert Humperdink — no not the crooner – is enjoyable all by itself, if one could isolate it from the audience, cast and stage. And under the baton of the deeply-accomplished Mo. Richard Buckley, the musicians rendered all the emotion worthy of the Grimm brother’s enchanting fairytale.
The staging was amazing — lights, scrims, digital images, snowflakes, rocking chairs. The 1893 NYC apartment where immigrants H&G, portrayed by Alicia Berneche and Liz Cass (That’s right. Two women.) are driven to distraction by hunger, was like a shadowbox come to life. The scene, elevated just above the stage floor, was so purely lighted, it looked like a high-def TV screen. It glowed, and at the close retreated upstage. (Take a bow, John Conklin, Set Designer, and Barry Steel, Lighting Designer.) And the lost-in-Central Park set was, well, a fantastic snow globe setting.
Great mid-Orchestra seating? Check. Excellent program notes? Uh-huh! Elaborate props and costumes? Of course. Sung mostly in English? Thankfully. Stellar cast? Oh yeah, and Liz Cass who plays mother Gertrude as well as the well-heeled witch in a Manhattan confectionary palace, combined a great voice with excellent acting, much to the audience’s fright . . . er, I mean delight. You’ll love the edible edifice as much as the gingerbread ones in the lobby, as well as the hot time around the hot stove.
The chorus seemed under-used to me, however, but then I was distracted by the lively, dare I say whimsical (?) translation of the libretto: Simple couplet rhyming, but nicely updated with some laugh-out- loud lines.
I regret I can’t be as succinct as the kid who saw the same show. I’ve no ear for opera. But the eyes and the ayes have it. “H&G” is a bit like marzipan, an acquired taste. Just don’t overindulge.
Spicewood (Austin) TX USA