New York State Theater at
Conductor – Steven Mosteller; Gretel – Jennifer Aylmer, Hansel – Jennifer Rivera, Mother – Cheryl Evans, Father – Michael Chioldi, The Witch – Jessie Raven.
Story. This opera is based on the Grimm Brothers story. The brother and sister Hansel and Gretel are sent out to forage for food after they ruin the dinner their mother was preparing while horsing around in the house. They get lost and spend the night away from home. The witch gets a hold of them, locks up Hansel to fatten him up to eat, and gets Gretel to work for her. Gretel tricks the witch into opening the oven door and shoves her into the oven. Many other children are freed together with Hansel.
Except in today’s production, the story didn’t take place in a medieval German forest; the setting was turn of the (20th) century
My first reactions to the opera were not positive. For whatever reason, the voices of Hansel and Gretel didn’t project very well, which is inexcusable for a sound-enhanced stage. I have always thought English is not a good language for the opera, so I don’t understand why NYC Opera decided to translate the libretto into English. And the chintzy rhyming really drove me up the wall.
Although the program notes say there are many well-known folk tunes, the only one I am familiar with is the aria “When I go to sleep, angels watch over me.” In general the tunes are pleasant. My understanding is German operas tend to run as continuously stories, so there are not too many natural pauses for the audience to applaud.
NYC Opera tends to use younger, up-and-coming artists. Thus you don’t often get 40 year old women trying to play the role of Cio-Cio San (a teenager). Today’s singers are by-and-large age-appropriate (well, the two Jennifers aren't children, for sure), except you can’t make a case of Gretel and her mother’s being underfed.
One final note. Engelbert Humperdinck the rock singer, who was all the rage when I was a young man, actually named himself after EH the opera composer. I guess nowadays both are not that well-known. Adelheid Wette, the librettist, was the wife of the composer.
Despite phrases like “the company deserves praise,” New York Times also has a so-so review of the opera.