Hansel and Gretel: not just for children

There were a lot of children at the first-night performance of Hansel and Gretel on Saturday, and they did stay right through to the end, not taking advantage of the intermission to leave, which is a good thing, because the last act was very much the best one.

The orchestra in the pit was illuminated by a spotlight for the entire overture (the opening was at too slow a tempo, a lot of us thought), before the curtain rose on the first stage vignette of the evening. The sets and lighting were wonderful throughout, and voices were strong and musicianly.

We all know some version of this story. In this one, there’s no woodcutter, no forest, and not a single breadcrumb. For the purpose of this production, Central Park in New York is the woodsy location, and the witch is a creature of the late nineteenth century.

The stage busines and choreography were a treat; theatrically and musically all was a pleasure to see and hear. I don’t believe that Austin Lyric Opera has ever performed this opera.

I found the English translation to be facetious and distracting, perhaps because as a child I was in a choir that sang the dance, the “little man” song, and the song of guardian angels (“when at night I go to sleep”) in a different translation. The little bits of German that are heard seem to suit the music best. It is certainly true, though, that the English text does go well in the last act, which is wonderful. I don’t want to spoil any part of that, and no part of it should be missed.

Three performances remain: Wednesday, 28 April, at 7:30 pm; Friday, 30 April, at 7:30 pm; and Sunday, 2 May, at 3 pm (call 472-5992 for more information). As always, there are supertitles displayed above the stage in order to assist in understanding what is being sung. Although every part was performed well, I consider the witch to have the star turn. Austin is fortunate indeed to enjoy a live performance of this classic.

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