A Sweet Treat Set in the Depression

United StatesUnited States Humperdinck, Hansel and Gretel: Soloists, C-CM Philharmonia, Cincinnati Children’s Choir, Mark Gibson (conductor), University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music. Corbett Auditorium. Cincinnati, Ohio. 20.11.2014 (RDA)Cast:
Reilly Nelson, Megan Slack, Gabriella Sam, Blake Lampton, Paulina Villarreal, Erica Intilangelo, John Overholt

Conductor: Mark Gibson
Stage director: Robin Guarino
Choreography: Vince De George
Scenic Designer: Mark Halpin

In this production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, director Robin Guarino sets the story during the Depression in America, but surprisingly, this setting undermines neither the lush Romanticism of the music nor the innocent fairytale story, and the results are nothing but happy.

Mark Halpin’s set is appropriately modest, with an opening scene set in a 1930’s working-class kitchen that then transforms itself into a forest-within-a-salon. A chandelier flies in, a tiny witch’s house rolls onstage, an oven appears and disappears, and Chris Carter’s projections of leaves and wings are used sparingly along with his mood-setting lighting.

As Hansel and Gretel, Reilly Nelson and Megan Slack fit their roles to perfection: Nelson, convincing as a boy, sings with a lyric mezzo voice that matches Slack’s lyric soprano at all times, and never more effectively than in the rapturous goodnight duet at the end of the first act. The roles of the parents are well sung and acted by soprano Gabriella Sam and baritone Blake Lampton. The Witch has often been cast with a tenor (though originally conceived for a mezzo-soprano with a good top voice) and here John Overholt hams things up to the very edge of the admissible.

In the small but important role of the Sandman, Paulina Villareal’s voice suits the few measures Humperdinck gives her. As the Dew Fairy, Erica Intilangelo sings effectively some of the prettiest music in the score. As those whom the Witch almost devours, the Cincinnati Children’s Choir sings and acts the parts with charm and naturalness. Mark Gibson leads the C-CM Philharmonia with obvious affection for the score, and his enthusiasm is reciprocated by the excellent work of the student orchestra.

 The production is sung in a straightforward English translation by David Pountney, with supertitles that help when the near-Wagnerian orchestration threatens to render the text unintelligible, despite the cast’s good diction. I had but one objection to the translation: the potty-mouthed Mother blurts out “What the hell are you doing?” as one of her entrance lines, which seemed out of sync with the tone of the story, even in a modern-dress production.

 Rafael de Acha

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