Taylor Pardell and Pascale Spinney photo - Emily Cooper Vancouver Opera
Hansel & Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck

Dates & Venue November 24 – December 11, 2016 at 7:30pm (Nov 27 & Dec 11 at 2pm; Nov 30 & Dec 7 at 12:30pm) | Vancouver Playhouse

Director Brenna Corner Conductor Alexander Prior Sets, Costumes and Puppets Design Old Trout Puppet Workshop Lighting Designer Jeff Harrison Orchestration Anatoly Korolyov Stage Manager Melissa Rood Puppeteers Lenard Stanga & Viktor Lukawski

Hansel Pascale Spinney (Mezzo-Sporano) Gretel Taylor Pardell (Soprano) Gertrude Leah Giselle Field (Mezzo-Soprano) Peter Peter Monaghan (Baritone) Sandman Vanessa Oude-Reimerink (Soprano) Dew Fairy Vanessa Oude-Reimerink (Soprano) The Witch Ryan Downey (Tenor)

Sung in English with SURTITLESTM

Reviewer John Jane

Shamefully, the name Engelbert Humperdinck is more readily associated with the Las Vegas crooner than the nineteenth century German composer. Notwithstanding, the older Humperdinck is revered in serious music circles for his chef d'œuvre: A three act operatic adaptation of the Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm faerie tale Hansel & Gretel.

This production’s focus is less grim than the Grimm original (apologies for the bad pun). For starters: the children’s mother is more sympathetic, Hansel and Gretel are not taken into the forest and abandoned by their parents, but sent out to collect wild fruit.

The libretto is written by the composer’s sister, Adelheid Wette and performed in English through a new adaptation by director Brenna Corner. Young British conductor Alexander Prior leads the rather unconventional orchestra in Humperdinck’s opulent score. The orchestra even features an electric guitar played by Edward Henderson. Prior rightfully claims to be a descendant of the famous Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavski.

This stellar Vancouver Opera production also features some weird and wonderful puppets designed by Old Trout Puppet Workshop. These surreal creatures are operated by skilful puppeteers entirely visible on and off the stage. The production designers get around having adult sized ‘children’ with the construction of scaled up furniture and giving the adult characters extra height.

This updated version of the Hansel & Gretel story is certainly whimsical and perhaps even campy. Though, it does offer a social message in juxtaposing excess with scarcity.

This production follows in the gender-bending tradition of having a mezzo-soprano in the role of Hansel and a tenor in the role of the witch. What makes this show a success is the talent and energy of the young cast.

Pascale Spinney as Hansel and Taylor Pardell as Gretel make convincing siblings. Their singing together is superb and their acting is believable. The good-humoured squabbling and playful roughhousing comes across as perfectly natural. Their performance of “Little brother, dance with me” is sheer delight. So too, but in a more poignant way, is their duet in two-part harmony “Evening Prayer.”

Newfoundland tenor Ryan Downey offers little by way of real menace as the red-caped, three metre tall over-the-top necromancer. He does, however, manage to steal just about the entire third act. Special kudos may be in order for non-singing performers, Lenard Stanga & Viktor Lukawski who suit up to play woodland creatures the bog-deer and a peculiar upright walking bog-rat.

Hansel and Gretel is an excellent starting point for young people. It is rich in beautiful melodies and folksy themes. Hopefully, it will inspire the many children in the audience for this opening performance to become future opera devotees.

© 2015 John Jane