'Hansel and Gretel' troupe well on its way to operatic perfection
Practically everyone has known since childhood the tale of "Hansel and Gretel," one of many folktales collected and edited by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm.
The story has been popular from its first publication in 1812 to the present. Engelbert Humperdinck's 1893 opera, which plays triumphantly this weekend at Fort Hays State University, is symptomatic of its continuing popularity. Congratulations to stage director Joseph Perniciaro, conductor Benjamin Cline and all who had a hand in this production.
At face value, the tale cautions parents not to send their children into dangerous situations, and it advises children to pay attention to their surroundings, to be self-reliant and use their heads to get out of tough spots. Under the surface, it has some rather disturbing cultural and psychoanalytical layers, which not only enhance the depth of the tale, but probably explain its lasting popularity.
I think the libretto, written by Humperdinck's sister, was inspired mainly by gingerbread. Gingerbread houses and people loom large in Germany at Christmas, and the opera was intended as Christmas entertainment for children. Humperdinck, inspired by folksongs, composed the music as a sort of homage to composer Richard Wagner. The result is a delicious confection of folk and faux folk melodies, wrought into seemingly simple, but ever-changing, webs of sound. Again, this gives depth to the opera and helps explain its appeal to children and adults alike.
At the dress rehearsal I attended, the opera was well on its way to opening night perfection. Hansel (Alexandra Hutchison) and Gretel (Eriana Holle) carry the show. Both sang their long, difficult, roles well. Hutchison, cleverly costumed by Tomme Williams to hide her feminine figure, moved and acted her trouser role convincingly. Holle looked as cute as a dirndl doll and acted and danced with grace and charm. As the witch, Karl Pratt gave a stellar performance clomping around in two-inch heels with striped stockings, wearing green nail polish and a fright wig, and brandishing a broom and a candy cane wand (Pratt sings on Friday, Luke Fairbank on Sunday).
Ivalah Allen and Calder Craig (Steven Cornwell on Sunday) gave professional performances as the parents, as did Portia Harris as the Dew Fairy. The children's chorus from Hays Middle School, directed by Jalynn Nolte, sang beautifully as the ex-gingerbread children.
"Hansel and Gretel" plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Felten-Start Theatre in Malloy Hall on the FHSU campus.
Ruth Firestone is an avid supporter of the Hays arts community and a frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.