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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Opera Review: The Gingerbread Cure

Opera Manhattan mounts Hansel & Gretel.

by Paul Pelkonen.

A German 10-pfennig stamp with Hansel, Gretel and the Witch.
On Tuesday night, Opera Manhattan offered a charming modest version of Engelbert Humperdinck's holiday classic Hansel und Gretel at the Acorn Theater on W. 42nd Street. It was a refreshing, traditional take on the German opera, performed in an "interactive" English translation.

Bryce Smith's company is offering a welcome alternative to the big-budget version being staged further uptown. This is Hansel on a shoestring, with music director Jennifer Peterson playing the entire score at an onstage baby grand. Well, not the entire score. The famous Overture and Witch's Ride were cut, and the opera's three acts were condensed to 80 minutes and played without a brake. 

Directed by New York City Opera veteran Beth Greenberg, this was a spare, but enchanting production. The set consisted of projected images, a small army of fake white Christmas trees and a few props. Three young opera-goers linked arms and became the gingerbread house. They were paid for their work in chocolate gelt, lollys and real gingerbread. 

Mezzo Sahoko Sato and soprano Megan Candio made an engaging, energetic pair of siblings as Hansel and Gretel. Ms. Sato brought a tomboy attitude and exaggerated mugging. Ms. Candio is a remarkably flexable dancer with a supple soprano instrument. Her choreographed moves while under the Witch's control were a welcome comic surprise. 

Heather Roberts played the Witch relatively straight, engaging in evil cackles and  vocal effects. This mezzo has an impressive range from the bottom of her chest voice all the way to the very top. In a humane touch, she was not baked into ginger-bread, but run offstage by Gretel. At the end, the Witch was pelted with "snowballs": white shower puffs thrown from the audience.

Nathan Fuhrman offered a firm, resonant presence as Peter, even with his long build-up to the Witch's Ride proving anticlimactic. This singer's deep voice offered comfort and strength in this part, especially in the opera's closing bars. As Gertrude, Korin Kormick displayed a powerful voice that may be too big for the cozy Acorn Theater. 

Elana Gleason doubled as the Sandman and Dew Fair. She also served as host of the performance, wrangling the kids on and off the stage and keeping the young audience members involved in the opera. In the finale (which was missing the usual chorus of children), she returned to the stage and sang the third part, filling out the harmony and helping to bring this performance to a satisfying close.

Hansel & Gretel runs through January 1. More information at the official website of Opera Manhattan.

Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.