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An Delightful Hänsel und Gretel

Graz Opera
12/25/1998 -  and 26, 30* December 1998, 21, 28 January, 25 February 1999
Engelbert Humperdinck : Hänsel und Gretel
Stephen Owen (Peter, the Father), Fran Lubhan (Gertrud, the Mother), Mihoko Fujimura (Hänsel), Martina Unden (Gretel), Manuel von Senden (Witch), Susanne Kopeinig (Sandman, Dew Fairy)
Singschul‘ der Grazer Oper (Gnomes, Angels and Spell-Bound Children), Eva Hoffellner (Singschul‘ Director)
Graz Philharmonic Orchestra, Wolfgang Bozic (Conductor)
Jenny Erpenbeck (Director), Julian Mayer (Set Designer), Hanna Wartenegg (Costume Designer), Reinhard Traub (Lighting Designer)

As always around this time of the year, the Graz Opera offers a special treat for its youngest opera-goers, and so the audience was packed with children and the house was buzzing with excitement all through the performance.

And what a delightful performance it was! The production, first shown last Christmas, was in true fairytale style, complete with gnomes, 'living' trees, exotic birds and a witch riding through the air on her broomstick. The sets were mounted on a revolving stage, so that the action switched easily from family home to forest and to the Witch's house. While the family home in Scene 1 was just a simple wooden hut, the forest in Scene 2 oozed the atmosphere of an enchanted world, bathed in deep-blue and emerald-green light, with rays of 'sunlight' falling through the leaves of the trees. In Scene 3, the set rotated to a different angle to reveal a little gingerbread house and the Witch sitting on a tree in a bird-like manner, with her back to the audience and dressed in a long feathery red coat. As soon as she had captured the two children, the light turned red and yellow, giving the scene a truly hellish atmosphere. There were also some lovely choreographic ideas, such as one of the 'living' trees secretly eating strawberries from Hänsel's basket and the Witch performing a wild dance with her broomstick and then flying through the air, which was of course a huge success with the children.

The cast sang and acted with great commitment. Mihoko Fujimura was an excellent Hansel with a warmly appealing, lush voice and charming boyish spirit and Martina Unden a lively, strong-voiced Gretel. Stephen Owen turned in a jovial, resonantly sung Father, while Fran Lubhan was a symphathetic, though slightly underpowered Mother. Manuel von Senden offered an amusingly grotesque, yet suitably wicked Witch, and Susanne Kopeinig was a silver-voiced Dew Fairy and Sandman. Wolfgang Bozic drew an excellent, lively performance from the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra, capturing just the right mood between tender intimacy and drama. All in all, a fine piece of ensemble work.

Bettina Maani



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