Opera review: Humperdinck ‘Hansel and Gretel’ weaves a spell
Hansel and Gretel
By Engelbert Humperdinck
(sung in English)
Presented by Opera Theatre of Montclair
Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29, 30, 4 p.m.
Central Presbyterian Church 46 Park St.
By GWEN OREL
It’s something you don’t see every day: a large contingent of under-8’s at the opera.
True, the opera is “Hansel and Gretel.” And it’s a matinee, in town, not a long commute to the city, wearing tight shoes and buttoned-up manners.
But Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera, with libretto by his sister, Adelheid Wette, is not a children’s opera. It is a full-length adult work, sung by adults, though based on the Grimms’ fairy tale.
The childish laughter when in Act One Gretel (this review is of Cast A; Laura Kosar) teases her brother (Madison Marie McIntosh) added to the charming, festive atmosphere of the presentation.
Over-8’s should not miss it.
An “up close” opera company, that performs abridged works at Van Vleck House & Gardens, Opera Theatre of Montclair at Central Presbyterian Church combines the intimacy of a school play with the professional quality of Lincoln Center. That small-town feeling is especially noticeable when a corps de ballet of angels dance up and down the aisles, and moms with cell phones stand to video tape them.
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One small quibble is that Central Presbyterian Church is somewhat less intimate, and a bit more chilly, than previous venues. The orchestra, magnificently conducted by Elizabeth Hastings, is glorious, but rows kept free of patrons, perhaps for a separation of sound also distance the performance.
You know the story: Hansel and Gretel, lost in the woods, come upon a witch in a gingerbread house. She imprisons Hansel, to fatten him up and eat him, but the children push the witch into the oven instead.
In the Humperdinck opera, Hansel and Gretel are not abandoned by their parents, but
merely get lost after picking strawberries. Mother and Father are not cruel, merely a little bad-tempered. There are also imprisoned “gingerbread children” who are freed when the witch’s spell is broken. These children, like the angels, are played by children.
Luisa Fernanda Munster, as Mother, has an impressive strength in her singing, particularly
the strong top notes. Nathan Bahny’s Father shows a rough, yet lovable drunk; Bahny has a knack of making his words as clear as Broadway. (The opera is sung in English.)
The “Evening Benediction,” when Hansel and Gretel say their prayers, is rightfully famous: it’s a haunting, soothing melody, and Kosar and McIntosh’s harmony literally creates goosepimples of pleasure.
And the little angels, choreographed by Conny Andres, of Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts, amplify the beauty of the music.
Humperdinck and Wette also invented The Sandman (Christine Rauschenbach-Nevill), who puts the children to sleep, a chorus of angels to dance around them, and a Dew Fairy (Barbee Monk) to wake them. Rauschenbach-Nevill’s delivery is so soothing that children can be seen closing their eyes, sitting on parents’ laps. Monk’s aria is charming.
Canterbury’s witch has a silvery soprano and a chilling laugh (Canterbury also directs). Joyce Korotkin and David Gillam’s set and production design was both colorful and creative. Costume Designer Julia Sharp’s attention to detail is impressive: the witch has a green tongue.
And they all, including the audience, live happily ever after.