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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
Hansel and Gretel
By Elyse Sommer
Ever since Engelbert Humperdinck's sister asked him to compose some songs to accompany a play based on the Brothers' Grimm's famous fairy tale, the resulting opera has captured a place in the hearts of many opera fans. Toned down somewhat from the nightmarish tale of abandoned children and with Humperdinck's rich score, it has not been boxed into the genre of musical family fare (though it tends to be most popular as such during Christmas).
Now, the Berkshire Opera's talented director Kathleen Kelly and the Houston Grand Opera have collaborated on a new chamber orchestra arrangement that should have a life beyond its current BOC run at Great Barrington's beautifully restored Mahaiwe Theater. The score usually played by a 40-piece orchestra works very well for an 8-piece ensemble and this, plus the new and more modern translation by the New York Opera Company's Cori Ellison, should give more opera companies dealing with tight budgets to present this at once familiar and popular work.
Under Bethany Reeves' direction and with Ms. Kelly to lead the excellent orchestra, this premiere outing went over very well with the opening night audience and should be popular for the rest of its brief run.
The modernized plot (the parents are now hardscabble twentieth century immigrants in a vaguely urban setting) is easy to follow even without looking at the super titles. Lyric soprano Alisa Thompson as Gretel and mezzo soprano Carolyn A. Kahl as Hansel are credible as the somewhat older than usual siblings and are well up to the vocal demands.
Soprano Meredith Flaster and baritone John Fulton were in good voice as the Mother and Father, as was soprano Jennifer Berkbile as the Sandman. But the big bravos for the adult singers belonged to Laura Strickling as the Dew Fairy and Christina MaFadden as the deceptively appealing (at the beginning) wicked witch.
The young singers and dancer of the Robert Blafield Children's Chorus filled out the stage delightfully, first as the Angels of Gretel's dream, and later as all the children once victimized by the Wicked Witch.
Carl Sprague's set though not elaborate managed to evoke both the family home, the eery world beyond and the gingerbread house-cum-witch's lair. Jeff Davis's lighting and Arthur Oliver, Shakespeare & Company's resident costume designer, rounded out the eye-caching production values. It was a nice touch, to see these backstage talents called up with Ms. Kelly to take a curtain call.