Heidi Stober and firm in “Hansel and Gretel” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Cory Weaver / HANDOUT)
Engelbert Humperdinck’s music for “Hansel and Gretel” is such an eclectic and cinematic composition that to listen to it’s to take an evocative trip via your personal previous. I variously discovered myself again in my faculty choir, strolling alone via a fairground and recalling the time when my loving father as soon as left me alone in a museum for a couple of minutes too lengthy. Few different works have so mixed folkic whimsy and emotional trauma, however then Hansel and Gretel are, I suppose, the poster siblings for such issues.
Like J.Okay. Rowling, the Brothers Grimm properly knew that kids would reply higher to works that didn’t preserve mendacity about their security.
The thought of an opera in regards to the deserted youngsters, the gingerbread home, the Sandman and a cannibalistic witch was steered to Humperdinck by his sister Adelheid Wette, who wrote the next libretto. The piece requires two adults to play kids all evening lengthy, not a typical recipe for fulfillment. However one of many pleasures of the manufacturing that opened Wednesday evening on the Lyric Opera of Chicago is how properly the soprano Heidi Stober, who performs Gretel reverse Samantha Hankey’s earthier Hansel, encapsulates a full of life and inquisitive younger lady, each vocally and bodily. Each Stober’s voice and physique discover the position with out condescension, and neither do they layer Gretel with some sort of fake grownup sophistication. It’s a wonderful line and Stober, who’s skilled on this position and jumps and struts all the best way to the curtain name, has it down completely.
Gretel is the emotional coronary heart of the story; Alfred Walker’s equally glorious efficiency as Father is a deft match for folks with a degree of cluelessness exploited so typically within the twentieth century by the author Roald Dahl; Walker’s wealthy baritone at all times feels able to spontaneous discovery, for positive, however you by no means query his broommaker’s limitations, nor these of Alexandra LoBianco’s panicked Mom. As for the witch: Properly, Jill Grove’s exit into the oven felt like a welcome growth and I intend that as a praise.
Heidi Stober, Jill Grove and Samantha Hankey in “Hansel and Gretel” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Cory Weaver / HANDOUT)
The texture of this Richard Jones-directed manufacturing, first seen right here some 22 years in the past, may be very Grand Guignol; the design from John Macfarlane, which squeezes the lonely, hungry youngsters right into a triangular dystopia shorn of any Germanic joviality, recollects Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman.”
As such, the creepy manufacturing (restaged right here by Eric Einhorn) may be very a lot of its period. In 2001, many artists had been compelled by the crucial that seemingly benign fairy tales, normally recalled from maturity via a nostalgic gauze, ought to be uncovered for his or her nightmarish rawness and complicated psychological underpinnings. On the time, I used to be typically troubled by the implicit remedy of youngsters as adults; we’ve arrived, I believe, at a extra balanced second in relation to fact and caretaking and Einhorn clearly has softened some edges, emphasised extra of the comedy and allowed these lovely singers to lean into the surreal facets of a piece so singularly able to extending the aesthetic attain of folkic musical kinds.
Watching the children of Uniting Voices Chicago, previously generally known as the Chicago Youngsters’s Choir, who make an look in Act 2 after Hansel and Gretel have safely burned the witch, is lots of enjoyable; they appear vocally joyous in victory, even when Humperdinck’s rating suggests it might be pyrrhic. All of it relies upon how whether or not you consider there are extra witches whence this one got here.
Samantha Hankey and Heidi Stober in “Hansel and Gretel” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Cory Weaver / HANDOUT)
Which brings me to Andrew Davis, who returned to the Lyric’s podium on Wednesday evening, newly topped as Lyric’s musical director emeritus and showing energetic, relaxed and positively Sondheim-esque.
Youngsters actually had been listening as Davis, seated within the pit and floating fortunately together with Humperdinck, providing, because the beloved Davis has achieved for therefore many a long time, the essential balm that there’s nothing so fallacious with the world that music can not repair.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Overview: “Hansel and Gretel” (3.5 stars)
When: By way of Feb. 5
The place: Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive
Working time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Tickets: $40-$330 at 312-827-5600 and lyricopera.org
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