HANSEL & GRETEL: DELIGHTFUL HOLIDAY OPERA

 

By:  Hal de Becker

 

Opera Las Vegas’ production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, based on the Brothers Grimm tale, received an outstanding performance at Windmill Library Theatre.

 

The seven principal vocalists were excellent as was the 15 member youth chorus.  OLV’s chamber orchestra, under the baton of Jack Gaughan, played with warmth and sensitivity.

 

The story of two children abandoned in a forest, captured by, and ultimately escaping from, a witch, is universally well known, which may be one reason why Humperdinck’s other works about children never achieved the fame and popularity of Hansel and Gretel. 

 

The opera premiered in Germany in 1893 with a libretto by the composer’s sister. Early performances were conducted by the likes of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, attesting to the high esteem in which the composer was held at the time.    

 

In the role of Gretel, youthful Casey Dakus’ acting was natural and persuasive and she exuded childhood charm.  However, even more impressive was her singing.    

 

I was once told by a late Metropolitan Opera star that the first thing to consider about a singer’s voice is whether or not you like the sound itself.  I liked Casey Dakus’s.  Her rich, sweet tone and unique timbre were her own and were lovely.    

 

Karsten Pudwill exchanged his fine tenor voice for a scratchy, nasal one in his ‘en travisti’ portrayal of the Witch. With the total physicality of his mimed, laughter-inducing humor he almost stole the show.    

 

In the ‘pants role’ of Hansel, Trisha Rivera was in top voice but her movements, designed to impersonate a boy, were over-done.  Ashley Stone as Mother, possessed, in addition to good singing, especially clear diction and as Father, Michael Parham’s bass-baritone was smooth and resonant.  Denise Wunderlich and Kayla Wilkens as lead Fairies were also notable.   

 

Many consider the most beautiful ensemble singing to come from the voices of children.  England’s boy choirs, for example, are world renowned.  Chorus Master, Athena Mertes, deserves kudos for the fine performance of OLV’s youth chorus in the beloved ‘Prayer’ sequence.

 

Timothy Dygert’s sets were exceptionally appealing and inventive.  The gingerbread house was a feast for the eyes – as well as for Hansel’s and Gretel’s appetites.  The numerous colors he used could have become a disorganized jumble but instead were tastefully well balanced and brightened every scene.   

 

Like Dygert’s sets, Stephanie Daniels’ costumes were colorful and pleasing.  The girls’ shawls, billowy peasant blouses, long skirts and Hansel’s short pants with shoulder straps were appropriate for the fairy tales’ uncertain time period.   

 

Bonite Bunt’s direction and staging were exemplary.  She kept the action going with subtle ‘bits of business’, jolly activity and good moves and placement of the artists that made a strong contribution to the production.        

 

The opera provided excellent family fare for the holiday season and perhaps the company’s General Director Jim Sohre will present it as an annual Opera Las Vegas seasonal offering. 

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