Review: L.A. Opera’s “Hansel and Gretel” Brings Holiday Enchantment

A scene from LA Opera's 2018 production of "Hansel and Gretel." (Photo © Karen Almond)

An opera about a brother and sister written by another brother and sister. Not to be confused with the UK born pop singer of the same name, the Engelbert Humperdinck who wrote Hansel and Gretel was born in Germany in 1854. In the 1890’s his sister, Adelheid Wette, had written a libretto based on the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale and asked her brother to set it to music as Christmas entertainment for her children. Later, Engelbert and Adelheid decided to turn this modest family project into a full-scale opera.

Sasha Cooke (Hansel) and Liv Redpath (Gretel) in LA Opera’s 2018 production of “Hansel & Gretel” (photo ©Karen Almond)

Siblings, Hansel (mezzo-soprano, Sasha Cooke) and Gretel (soprano, Liv Redpath) live at the edge of a huge forest in heir modest home with their mother Gertrude (soprano, Melody Moore) — a rash, but sympathetic woman caught up in her uneventful life, merely trying to make ends meet. Peter (Craig Colclough) is their humorous, drunk, and playful father, offering the audience a real treat with his amazing bass-baritone voice.

The children are sent into the forest to find berries for their supper after their mother shoos them out of the house for slacking off on their chores. When they get lost, we are drawn along with them into a magical world of fantastic beasts and fairies, fascinating and dangerous simultaneously. After a night of sleep, the perpetually-starving kids stumble upon the delicious gingerbread house and its bloodthirsty owner, the witch who feeds on children by baking them into gingerbread cookies (although it appears more like she’s collecting them instead of feasting upon them). Mezzo-soprano, Susan Graham delivers a caricaturist witch, more campy than spooky, boisterous old tart versus shriveled hag. The rest, as you know from the age-old tale, ends happily with the witch being tossed into the oven.

Susah Graham as the Witch, with Liv Redpath (Gretel) and Sasha Cooke (Hansel) in LA Opera’s 2018 production of “Hansel & Gretel” (photo ©Karen Almond)

The opera is perfectly timed for the holidays and geared towards kids, minimizing any dark, heavy undertones. The atmospheric set design, minimal-though-clever effects, and enchanting costumes are sure to delight kids in a way that is more The Muppet Show than Tim Burton.

— Victor Riobo.

L.A. Opera’s “Hansel and Gretel” playing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through December 15th. Tickets HERE.