The Glenn Gould School’s fall opera production this year is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel given in Brent Krysa’s English language, highly condensed version, originally created for the COC Ensemble Studio School Tour. It really is condensed. There’s no chorus and it comes in at just over the hour mark. The main plot elements are retained but I think quite a bit of the darkness, and most of the religiosity, are gone, though the latter isn’t eliminated entirely. After all, the Evening Prayer and the final chorus are musical highlights and pretty much have to be there. It doesn’t leave any room for the director to explore ideas like child abuse or addiction and pretty much forces, for better or worse, a straightforward emphasis on the basic story.
The designs and costumes are fairly basic. Broomsticks do multiple duty as walls and trees and whatever. The gingerbread house and oven are tiny. This all had to fit in a touring van. Still it’s effective enough on the small Mazzoleni stage. The one addition, I think is that for this production Krysa has added extra witches who howl witchily while serving as stage hands.
It’s given in piano reduction so some of Humperdinck’s Wagnerian chromaticism is lost but the basic melodic and contrapuntal structures are there and were clearly brought out by Peter Tiefenbach at the piano. And one is reminded just how many really good melodies this piece has.
There are really three main roles; the two children and the Witch. The Father is reduced to a quick walk on at the end, doubled by the witch. The Mother, the Dew Fairy and the Sandman are brief cameos. All three principals are really rather good. Kendra Dyck as Gretel showed us once again that she is a very good actress with real comedic flair. She has a pleasant sweet toned soprano that’s she’s well capable of colouring for dramatic effect. Rachel Miller, new to me, sings Hansel. She sings accurately and expressively and manages that mezzo thing of imitating male body language rather well. Kjel Erickson, as the Witch, finally gets a chance to show what he can do. He made a really good witch. Again body language was pretty key. It’s interesting how much difference the use of fingers makes! Vocally he navigates the line between musicality and OTT witchiness effectively. Jonelle Sills (Mother) manages to inject a bit of darkness but her appearances are very brief. Ross Mortimer is an amusingly lugubrious and slightly camp Sandman and Kateryna Khartova is a decorative Dew Fairy though she doesn’t have a whole lot to sing.
All in all a fun show that’s worth checking out if you are free tonight for the second and last performance.
Photo credits: Lisa Sakulensky