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.
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 –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
|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!
|Christine Albrecht||Christine Albrecht|
|James Costigan||Laura Albrecht|
|Nellie Daniel||Matthew Andrejka|
|Alexandra DeGolier||Kameron Duncan|
|Clarise Groba||Emily Eslick|
|Joshua Grzymala||Luis Lechuga|
|Jenna Martin||Jenna Martin|
|Audrey Miller||Clara Matlack|
|Sebastian Salmen||Gracie Miller|
|Grady Whelan||Chris Raymond|
|Clare Wilson||Anthony Ryan|
|Megan Wright||Chris Salinas|
|Assistant Conductor||Andrew Whitfield*|
|Stage Director||Layna Chianakas|
|Chorus Master||Andrew Whitfield|
|Set Designers||Larry Hancock
|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.