Candy & cannibalism

QSOC’s latest is a traditional but delightful version of Hansel and Gretel

The orchestra, directed by Christopher Bennett, stand out in QSOC’s production of Hansel and Gretel.
The orchestra, directed by Christopher Bennett, stand out in QSOC’s production of Hansel and Gretel.
Photo: 
Photo: 
Hansel and Gretel is based on the children’s story, first published by the Brothers Grimm.
Hansel and Gretel is based on the children’s story, first published by the Brothers Grimm.
Photo: 

An opera most often performed during the month of December, QSOC will have you hanging on to the holiday season with their production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s German opera Hansel and Gretel. After all, what’s more festive than starvation, desertion, creepy woodland creatures and cannibalism?

The first beat of the overture that will immediately transform you back into a whimsical child. QSOC’s orchestra of 40 is brilliantly led by first-time musical director Christopher Bennett.

Melodically pleasing, plucky and harmonious, Humperdinck’s score is a pleasure to hear. Heavy in stringed instruments, Bennett said he was most excited at the inclusion of a harpist on the orchestra.

“Harps start at around 20 grand,” he said. “Harp players are hard to come by.”

Artistic director Amy Dryden takes a very tradition approach to the opera, setting this production against a backdrop that looks similar to a pop-up book that a child might possess. Set designer Monika Rosen made most of the set pieces look one-dimensional, which was effective in making the world of the opera all the more cartoon-like; however, it did come off a little kitsch—perhaps intentionally. The costumes, too, were very simple and traditional.

These simplistic design choices allow the true talent of the performers to shine through. Standouts are Molly Luhta and Claire Renouf as Gretel and Michael Hodgson as the father, although all members of the cast were very talented. As opera can be straining on a young vocalists the show’s main roles of Hansel, Gretel and the Witch have been double cast in order to protect their voices.

Renouf played Gretel the night I saw the piece. Her adorable stage presence and clear, articulate voice were some of her many charms. Her chemistry with on-stage brother Keena Eloise was at first a bit stiff, but the two seemed to warm up to one another as the show went on and their voices blended well together.

Some of the staging throughout the show is a bit awkward. There’s a little too much pacing and arm-swinging for my liking and I would have liked to have seen more specific direction and intention in the characters movement.

The climax of the opera, however, seemed to fizzle. The witch tormenting and scaring the children lacked true terror and felt a bit more comical than anything. The witch also looked too much like a runway model rather than an old woman—and riding around on a broomstick was a bit too much.

The finale makes up for this completely though. Most of the ensemble reunite for the final piece, which has an amazing energy and created a very beautiful stage picture.

Hansel and Gretel is a great, gentle introduction into the vast world of opera. Its translation into English and the familiarity of the storyline makes it accessible and easily understood. The music, too, shies away from grandiose arias we have been accustom to expecting from operas. Its sweet and sounds much more modern than one might expect to hear.

“At times it feels more like a musical,” Dryden said.

Rarely will you need to look at the surtitles as the piece sang very clearly in English—and you may just forget it’s an opera too.

Hansel and Gretel runs tonight at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at the Grand Theatre.

Correction

Claire Renouf played Gretel and Keena Eloise played Hansel in QSOC's production of Hansel and Gretel.

Incorrect information originally appeared in this article.

The Journal regrets the error.

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