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Hänsel und Gretel

Los Angeles
Chandler Pavilion
11/29/2006 -  6, 9, 14, and 17 December 2006
Engelbert Humperdinck : Hänsel and Gretel
Lucy Schaufer (Hänsel), Maria Kanyova (Gretel), Graham Clark (The Witch), Luana DeVol (Gertrude, the Mother), Donnie Ray Albert (Peter, the Father), Christine Brandes (Sandman), Stacey Tappan (Dew Fairy)
Douglas Fitch (Director/Designer), Mark Jonathan (Lighting Designer),
Stuart Canin (Los Angeles Opera Concertmaster), Anne Tomlinson (Artistic Director, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus)
Alan Gilbert (Conductor).

Every December there reigns a magical moment in the theater. It is a time for audiences to celebrate the holidays by attending one of a host of different classic productions whether it be a ballet, symphony, musical, or even opera. This year Los Angeles Opera brings a delightful work to The Dorothy Chandler with Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel and Gretel.

The Grimm Brothers’ classic fairy tale is one of several different stories written by the two men that also include other well known works as ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’, and ‘Briar Rose’ all compiled into the enchanting book entitled Children’s and Household Tales. Such literary work was the impetus for Humperdinck to write an opera for Hänsel and Gretel.

The original plot, as we know it, takes a slightly different turn in Humperdinck’s score, but one will not find it difficult to follow. The mastermind behind the sets is Director/Designer Douglas Fitch. From the beginning it was Fitch’s ambition to make Hänsel and Gretel appeal to not only the traditional opera patrons, but to also encourage young children and young adults to attend by instituting Richard Sparks’ entertaining new English libretto and updating the forest creatures for creative relevance. Not only to delight young and old, this clever production will, hopefully, be a fountainhead for new subscribers.

Hänsel and Gretel is a fast-paced two hour production with continually roving scenery and props moving around the floor, up and down, in and out, to and fro, so that the work holds continuous interest to the younger children. The enlivened dynamic acting of Lucy Schaufer and Maria Kanyova as Hänsel and Gretel, are kept busy with dancing, singing, and acting while being scolded and forgiven (in the end), by the effectual Luana DeVol as mother Gertrude. Donnie Ray Albert’s rich dramatic baritone voice reverberates with clarity and tonality as the children’s father, Peter.

The wholesome melodies and sonorous richness of Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera are exemplified in the minor roles of the Sandman and the Dew Fairy. Selected to perform these parts are Christine Brandes and Stacey Tappan, respectively, who both add a pristine aura when singing their beautiful yet abbreviated arias.

Highlight of laughter and entertainment comes from Graham Clark’s wonderful antics in his rendition of The Witch. Making his L.A. Opera debut his portrayal of the flaming red haired evil doer dressed in a pink clad skirt with red polka dot balls on tights has him flying around on a broomstick, sliding down a lollipop fire pole, and grinding out flat gingerbread men while all the time trying to prepare Hänsel and Gretel for their ultimate demise in the oven. Clark is a natural and his genuine enthusiasm is most convincing.

A push of The Witch into the oven prompts a scrim to cover the stage with simulated flames followed by an interlude during which time the set is transfigured into burned skeletal remains of the gingerbread house fronted by rows of enslaved gingerbread children waiting to be rescued by the hero and heroine. Final freedom from The Witch’s spell brings to life the members of The Los Angeles Children’s Chorus with simplistic choreography and innocently soft singing of the liberated Children’s Theme.

Another important task in accentuating the colorful sets is the mastery of lights to convey the many moods. The acclaims of Mark Jonathan once again prove successful following his artistry in L.A. Opera’s performances of Ariadne auf Naxos, Falstaff, and Don Pasquale.

Alan Gilbert holds the baton in this charming score. Hailing from Santa Fe, Mr. Gilbert uses his expertise to transform the orchestra into a magical fantasy backdrop.

Fairy tales are not just for children. In fact, Hänsel and Gretel is a story filled with joy, sorrow, fear, hope, love, and forgiveness. It touches the hearts of people in every corner of the world. This holiday give your family that special gift that everyone can smile about. Engelbert Humperdinck’s work will delight them all.

Christie Grimstad



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