Hansel & Gretel Review – An Afternoon of Sheer Delight

I have a problem. How do I write a review of Opera San Jose’s production of Hansel & Gretel that expresses the utter joy that I felt Sunday afternoon November 17, 2013. Taking a slight liberty with the Rogers and Hammerstein song about Maria in The Sound of Music, 

Oh, how do you solve a problem like MyReview?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

I can but try.

Cast 1: Hansel (Kindra Scharich), Gretel (Sara Gartland), and the Sandman (Antonia Tamer); photo by Pat Kirk

Cast 1: Hansel (Kindra Scharich), Gretel (Sara Gartland), and the Sandman (Antonia Tamer); photo by Pat Kirk

Evening when I go to sleep
Fourteen angels watch do keep
Two stand here above me 
Two stand there below me 
Two to guard my right hand 
Two to guard my left hand 
Two my sleep attending 
Two to wake me bending 
Two to point when I arise 
The way to Heaven’s paradise

The beautiful Evening Prayer begins the finale to Act I – the emotional high of the opera. Most emotional highs involve the sudden release of tension and leave you in a state of shock – this one is different. There is a bit of tension –

Cast 1: Hansel (Kindra Scharich) and Gretel (Sara Gartland) lost in the woods; photo by Bob Shomler

Cast 1: Hansel (Kindra Scharich) and Gretel (Sara Gartland) lost in the woods; photo by Bob Shomler

The two children are lost, it’s getting dark, and there are mysterious noises in the woods. But the music isn’t scary. Then the Sandman shows up with gentle words set to sweet music:

The little sandman am I
And nothing evil am I
You children I love dearly
Your dreams concern me nearly
Within each eye two grains of sand
I sprinkle with a gentle hand
Your eyelids then serenely close
That you may rest in sweet repose
. . . . .

The children relax and kneel for the Evening Prayer, which began this review. As they sing the final words of the Prayer, their eyes close, and they lie down in slumber secure in each other’s arms. The tension is gone – replaced by a feeling of tranquility.

Dancers Hannah Vaughan and Gabriel Mata; photo by Pat Kirk

Dancers Hannah Vaughan and Gabriel Mata; photo by Pat Kirk

The Sandman (Antonia Tamer) spreads wide his capacious cloak, protecting the sleeping children from the perils of the night – and also from the prying eyes of the audience. The orchestra plays a few more lines to round out the Prayer melody and segues seamlessly into the romantic dream scene music. The Sandman folds his cloak and slips unobtrusively off stage, revealing the sleeping bodies – which then rise, wordlessly and effortlessly, to begin a pas de deux appropriate to the music. Lo and behold, these bodies are no longer the singers Kindra Scharich and Sara Gartland, but the ballet dancers Hannah Vaughan and Gabriel Mata – who do a lovely job of interpreting the music.

Fourteen Angels: Christine Albrecht, James Costigan, Nellie Daniel, Alexandra DeGolier, Clarise Groba, Joshua Grzymala, Sophia Haddad, Teagen Holquist, Jenna Martin, Audrey Miller, Sebastian Salmen, Grady Whelan, Clare Wilson, and Megan Wright; photo by Pat Kirk

Fourteen Angels: Christine Albrecht, James Costigan, Nellie Daniel, Alexandra DeGolier, Clarise Groba, Joshua Grzymala, Sophia Haddad, Teagen Holquist, Jenna Martin, Audrey Miller, Sebastian Salmen, Grady Whelan, Clare Wilson, and Megan Wright; photo by Pat Kirk

After a bit Mother Nature (Rita Elizabeth Horiguchi) appears, bedecked with tiny jewels of light, and shepherding 14 lovely child-angels, robed, crowned, and carrying candles. As the music reaches its quiet conclusion, the dancers return to their sleeping positions, the angels distribute themselves appropriately about them, and the curtain slowly descends to end Act I.

Cast A: Mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez as Hansel, soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Gretel and soprano Christine Capsuto as the Dew Fairy; Photo by Pat Kirk

Cast A: Mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez as Hansel, soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Gretel and soprano Christine Capsuto as the Dew Fairy; Photo by Pat Kirk

The mood continues into Act II as the benign Dew Fairy (Christine Capsuto) shows up to gently and tunefully alert the children (transmogrified back into Scharich and Gartland during the intermission) that a bright new day has dawned and it’s time to be up-and-at-’em.

Witch’s House; photo by Bob Shomler

Witch’s House; photo by Bob Shomler

Of course, the children are hungry, so when they spot the gingerbread house their happiness is complete. Gretel cautiously hangs back, but when Hansel rushes forward and starts tearing cookies off the house and eating them, Gretel joins right in. Suddenly the music changes and becomes ominous. A voice is heard from the interior:

Nibble little mousie
Who’s nibbling at my housie?

Hansel and Gretel jump back, frightened, but soon convince themselves that they only heard the wind, and resume their nibbling.

Cast 1: Tenor James Callon as the witch, soprano Sara Gartland as Gretel, and mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich as Hansel; Photo by Pat Kirk

Cast 1: Tenor James Callon as the witch, soprano Sara Gartland as Gretel, and mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich as Hansel; Photo by Pat Kirk

When their backs are turned the witch (James Callon) comes quietly out of the house – and the growing tension in the audience is instantaneously dissipated in laughter. This witch, with a definitely masculine tenor voice and an enormous bosom is obviously a comic character and you know that the tension is all make-believe – there is nothing to be afraid of.

Cast 1: The witch and her oven; photo by Bob Shomler

Cast 1: The witch and her oven; photo by Bob Shomler

Taken by itself, the witch’s gigantic grinning outdoor oven might inspire a bit of terror; but when the witch removes the fancy ball gown as being inappropriate for firing up the oven and plays the rest of the scene in “sexy?!” undergarments, the farce is complete.

Cast 1: Hansel and Gretel shove the witch into her oven; photo by Bob Shomler

Cast 1: Hansel and Gretel shove the witch into her oven; photo by Bob Shomler

The rest of the fairy tale plays out with beautiful music and no more surprises. Hansel is imprisoned in the candy-cane jail but keeps his wits and misleads the witch by pretending to be too skinny for her to eat. Gretel carefully observes the witch casting her spells and later repeats them to advantage. When the witch tries to trick Gretel into opening the oven to look in and “see if the muffins are done yet,” the child turns the tables by feigning stupidity and saying “show me how.” As she does so, Gretel quickly frees Hansel and the two children push the witch into the oven and slam shut the oven doors.

Cast 1: Front: Gretel (Sara Gartland), Father (Krassen Karagiozov), Mother (Buffy Baggott), Hansel (Kindra Scharich); Back: twelve gingerbread children (Christine Albrecht, Laura Albrecht, Matthew Andrejka, Kameron Duncan, Emily Eslick, Luis Lechuga, Jenna Martin, Clara Matlack, Gracie Miller, Chris Raymond, Anthony Ryan, Chris Salinas); Far Right: Sandman (Antonia Tamer) and Gingerbread-Cookie Witch; photo by Bob Shomler

Cast 1: Front: Gretel (Sara Gartland), Father (Krassen Karagiozov), Mother (Buffy Baggott), Hansel (Kindra Scharich); Back: twelve gingerbread children (Christine Albrecht, Laura Albrecht, Matthew Andrejka, Kameron Duncan, Emily Eslick, Luis Lechuga, Jenna Martin, Clara Matlack, Gracie Miller, Chris Raymond, Anthony Ryan, Chris Salinas); Far Right: Sandman (Antonia Tamer) and Gingerbread-Cookie Witch; photo by Bob Shomler

Gretel then frees all the gingerbread children who comprised the picket fence and turns them back into live boys and girls. Peter (Krassen Karagiozov) and Gertrud (Buffy Baggott), parents of Hansel and Gretel, show up having frantically searched the woods all night. There is singing; there is dancing; there is joy throughout the land – and in the audience; the curtain falls.

It has been a perfect afternoon. And there are several more performances. Come. And bring a child or a grandchild. In fact, if you come on Black Friday (Nov 29), kids are free!

operanut_sig

CASTS A 1
Role Dates 11/16, 11/21, 11/24, 11/29# 11/17, 11/23, 11/26, 12/1
Hansel Lisa Chavez Kindra Scharich
Gretel Cecilia Violetta López Sara Gartland
Gertrud (Mother) Nicole Birkland Buffy Baggott
Peter (Father) Evan Brummel Krassen Karagiozov
Sandman Chloe Smart Antonia Tamer
Dew Fairy Christine Capsuto Christine Capsuto
Witch Marc Schreiner James Callon
Mother Nature Rita Elizabeth Horiguchi Rita Elizabeth Horiguchi
Dancers Gabriel Mata Gabriel Mata
Hannah Vaughan Hannah Vaughan

# Children come free on Black Friday!

 

CHILDREN’S CHORUS
ANGELS GINGERBREADS
Christine Albrecht Christine Albrecht
James Costigan Laura Albrecht
Nellie Daniel Matthew Andrejka
Alexandra DeGolier Kameron Duncan
Clarise Groba Emily Eslick
Joshua Grzymala Luis Lechuga
Sophia Haddad
Teagen Holquist
Jenna Martin Jenna Martin
Audrey Miller Clara Matlack
Sebastian Salmen Gracie Miller
Grady Whelan Chris Raymond
Clare Wilson Anthony Ryan
Megan Wright Chris Salinas

 

CREATIVE TEAM
Conductor Joseph Marcheso
Assistant Conductor Andrew Whitfield*
Stage Director Layna Chianakas
Choreographer Maria Basile
Chorus Master Andrew Whitfield
Set Designers Larry Hancock
John Draginoff
Costume Designer Elizabeth Poindexter
Lighting Designer Pamila Gray
Wig & Makeup Designer Jeanna Parham
 * Conducts Nov. 24 & 26

 

Opera San Jose California Theatre
2149 Paragon Drive 345 South First Street
San Jose CA 95131-1312 Betw. San Carlos & San Salvador
408-437-4450 Downtown San Jose

 

 

 

This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on November 21, 2013.

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One Response to Hansel & Gretel Review – An Afternoon of Sheer Delight

  1. Emily Eslick says:

    That was a great review! I loved being part of the magic of the opera and it was fun to hear how you enjoyed it. I want to leave a shout out for Peggy Spool and my fellow singers in Vivace Youth Chorus. Thanks again!!!

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