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22.12.12

'Hansel and Gretel'


Sarah Mesko (Hansel) and Emily Albrink (Gretel),
Washington National Opera (photo by Scott Suchman)
When Washington National Opera inaugurated a new family opera tradition with a production of Engelbert Humperdinck's charming opera Hansel and Gretel at the Lincoln Theater in 2007, we were charmed. The tradition, it turned out, took a while to take root, but after a five-year hiatus, the company revived David Gately's fairy-tale production on Friday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (through the generosity of Jacqueline Badger Mars, which brought with it a tin of specially decorated M&Ms as you left the theater). The production has been tweaked somewhat, to fit the different stage space in this venue, but it is still just as charming.

The score has miles of appeal, championed in its day by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, who both conducted it. (Thomas May, one of the best writers on music around, has detailed the work's genesis in excellent program notes.) Considering that this production is intended as a family opera, with the goal of introducing young children to the genre, it made perfect sense to sing it in an English translation, adapted from the Schirmer vocal score. The two leads, Emily Albrink's Gretel and Sarah Mesko's Hansel (both alums of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program), were equally strong, making a finely matched duo in the Evening Prayer. From the current Domingo-Cafritz class, María Eugenia Antúnez was a dark-toned Mother, slightly hard to understand, and Norman Garrett made a boisterous, somewhat overblown Father. Jessica Stecklein brought a pretty, sparkly soprano to the roles of Sandman and Dew Fairy, the latter costumed in a bright pink confection with silver boots and Tinkerbell wings (costumes designed by Timm Burrow).


Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, ‘Hänsel’ is a grown-up twist on a childhood favorite (Washington Post, December 24)

Gary Tischler, Gingerbread Witch in 'Hansel and Gretel': O.K. for Kids (The Georgetowner, December 20)

Marie Gullard, Hansel and Gretel takes its place in the holiday season (Washington Examiner, December 6)
In 2007, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wór was a memorable witch, a role taken this time by tenor Corey Evan Rotz, to hilarious effect. A cross-dressed witch has been done before, most notably in the Richard Jones production at the Metropolitan Opera, with Philip Langridge as a fiendish Julia Child witch in drag. Rotz sang with a virile, even heroic tone and a stage-shaking cackle, making little attempt, beyond his ridiculous costume, to seem feminine. While this opera can work with a more cynical conception, like the biting, modernized production at Virginia Opera last year, Gately went for traditional, with brightly colored, daydream-distorted sets (designed by Robin Vest). The costumes helped mark the divide between the children's reality and fantasy world, mostly drab in the former and garishly multichromatic in the latter, with four delightful human-sized animals in the dream ballet. WNO turned again to the eight-person chamber ensemble arrangement of the orchestration by Kathleen Kelly, which is a shame but necessary for the small pit. This puts some stress on the pianist, who has to fill in many of the details, but conductor Michael Rossi guided a fine performance from his generally excellent forces. The WNO Children's Chorus was small but valiant, adding just the right tone of jubilation as the gingerbread children at the end.

This performance will be repeated, in some cases with a cast change, today and tomorrow (December 22 and 23), in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

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