A Magical 'Hansel and Gretel' at the L.A. Opera

A review by Oliver Carnay

LOS ANGELES—Hansel and Gretel, Engelbert Humperdinck’s famous fairytale opera classic, which premiered last Sunday at the Los Angeles Opera (Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, on Grand and Temple Sts.) and will be shown through Dec. 17, is well-staged, visually entertaining, and musically satisfying—for young and old to enjoy. Credit should go to director and designer Douglas Fitch (making his LA Opera debut), with new English libretto by Richard Sparks (his fifth world premiere in 2006), and orchestra conducted by Alan Gilbert.

The popular folktale may have a simple story, but this witty new LA production is sure to enthrall and surprise audiences with its grandiosity: 12-foot-tall creatures, fantastical sets, and elaborate stage effects.

In Act One, two children are left home. Hansel (Lucy Schaufer) is distracted and hungry, while Gretel (Maria Kanyova) tells him how their mother, Gertrude (Luana DeVol) expects her to sell enough to buy food. Their family earns a living by making and selling brooms. Gertrude returns to the house and irritated to know that they have done a little in the house. She spilled the milk and their dinner is lost. Upset, she sends both of them into the woods to find something to eat.

Their father (played by Donnie Ray Albert) returns home and is frightened to know that their two children are heading into the forest. He just learned from the townspeople that a witch (Graham Clark) living in the woods is turning children into a gingerbread. And so they went into the forest to follow their children. The Sandman (Christine Brandes) appears and dusted their eyes, causing their eyes to get tired until they have fallen asleep. There was an intermission of twenty minutes.

The Act Two paces up the excitement -- a kid sitting beside us tells us that her sister will be on the next act! The (tall) Dew Fairy (played by Stacey Tappan) opened with a song, after an orchestral interlude, to awake Hansel and Gretel. To their surprise, a gingerbread house adorned with chocolates and unimaginable different kinds of candies is just a few feet away. The Witch has used them her black magic to entice and keep them into the house.

The Witch, in vivid excitement, flies up to the air with her magic broomstick before casting a spell to Hansel, who is now in captivity, waiting to be the evening’s dinner. So, Hansel needs to be fed first until he is plump enough to be roasted. Gretel was able to steal the Witch’s wand and use it for Hansel to move. She deceived the Witch and pretentiously asks the Witch how to use the oven. As the Witch falls for the trap, she leans inside the oven. It was time for the brother and sister to make their move to push her inside. The spell is broken! The children who were turned into gingerbreads had returned to life again. Timely, father Peter and mother Gertrude found them and are all happily reunited.

For tickets and schedule of showings, log on to www.losangelesopera.com or call (213) 972-8001. All Los Angeles Opera performances are being held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center of Los Angeles County (135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012). Half-price tickets are being offered to 16 and under (but not recommended for infants or toddlers).