Hansel and Gretel

In the late 18th and early 19th Century, when the Brothers Grimm set about to collect German folks tales, they took what they found warts and all. This made for very dark, but, nevertheless, authentic portraits of the Teutonic heart. Among their many famous stories is Hansel and Gretel, which was converted into an opera by Engelbert Humperdinck, a protégé of Richard Wagner. The libretto for the opera was written by the Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, who, much in the manner of present day Disney operatives, ground the edges off the tale and Christianized it.

In Opera Colorado's current production, Artistic Director James Robinson told Director Peter Rothstein to do whatever he wanted as long as it didn't include gingerbread and lederhosen. And thus, what we now witness at Boettcher Concert Hall is a profusion of great music and voice adrift in a story that has lost its heart.

Set in contemporary society, the children indulge in television and various toys, (instead of making brooms, as their mother has requested), while there is no food in the house. When Hansel and Gretel get lost in the woods, the Sandman and the Dew Fairy watch over them, yet after they stuff themselves with sweets and narrowly avoid becoming the witch's dinner, it is the power of Christian prayer that is credited with saving them, though we are clueless as to what actions this reference alludes. Hansel and Gretel's family still receives their raw milk in a pitcher, but they live in an aluminum frame house with a 50's dinette set, and when the kids are sent to the woods to pick berries for supper, they eventually find their way to an aluminum frame hut with a neon sign on the roof advertising the sweets displayed in wall-to-wall windows.

While I recognize that the use of anachronisms in the theatre is often a viable technique, there is little believable or morally resonant with these clumsy insertions. Hansel and Gretel may be a tale about kids whose indulgences nearly get the best of them, but let us not forget the role the parents played in engendering these habits and the conditions that led to the children's flight from home.

All of this misplaced interpretation piled upon misinterpretation, from Wette to Rothstein, weighs heavily on what otherwise are six fine performances. Mary Ann McCormick and Kelly Kaduce warm us with their youthful voices and are thoroughly convincing as the playful youths; William Saetre is both demonic and satirical as the witch; and Judeth Shay Burns treats us to translucent magic as The Sandman and The Dew Fairy. Norman Phillips and Amy Cope, as Peter and Getrude, mother and father, create well-defined characters and fill them with mature voices. Scott Terrell and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra show us why Humperdinck's score deserves much esteem.

Opera Colorado's production of Hansel and Gretel runs through May 5th. 303-893-4100.


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