4.29.2010

Hansel & Gretel / Austin Lyric Opera : 4 of 5

It's always fun to experience an opera that I've never seen before, so I had a great time at Austin Lyric Opera's final production of the season, Engelbert Humperdinck's (the composer, not the Tom Jones-ish guy!) Hansel & Gretel. Although the fairy tale remains the same, the setting has been moved to New York City (similar to what they did with last year's Cinderella), so the forest the children get lost in becomes Central Park! Visually this production was incredibly creative and striking, taking a "living storybook" approach that combined fascinating sets with beautiful scrim and lighting effects. At times the stage was reduced to a limited shape (such as a rectangle or a circle) that made it seem even more like a framed illustration, and by using projections they were able to create images of wandering through the city, falling snow, and even ghost-like apparitions rising into a dreamland! The music was really interesting to me, since it seemed quite traditional but definitely skirted the edge of modern harmonies and dissonant melodies at times. My favorite piece was the children's' prayer about 14 angels watching over them while they sleep, but I also loved their father's flamboyant tunes. I should also mention the witch, who had a wonderful cackle and looked particularly gruesome stirring her pot while wearing a bloody apron! Although this opera is in German, ALO decided to go with an English translation, which really bothered me, especially since it was filled with cliches and modern phrasing (I cringed when Gretel sang that Hansel was "so cool"). Since the Hansel & Gretel story is pretty short, the opera only had a single intermission, and truthfully much of the performance time is somewhat padded by long dream sequences that don't have much to do with the plot (although they allow for more beautiful music and incredible stage effects). As always, I'm looking forward to Austin Lyric Opera's next production once the new season rolls around!