DULUTH — Lyric Opera of the North reminds everyone that the Twin Ports have their own opera company with a charming production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” at the Marshall Performing Arts Center.
What charm? It has a Cookie Chorus.
Hansel and Gretel are the original Katzenjammer Kids, but their hi-jinks never overshadow the quality voices of mezzo-soprano Timothi Williams as Hansel and lyric soprano Siena Forest as Gretel throughout. the evening. The pair battle through several fun duets, especially early on, but an exquisite “Where at Night I Go to Sleep” was their vocal highlight.
The two appear as oversized children. Williams combines a very expressive face with the temperamental body of a teenager. The pure sound of Forest’s voice, combined with Gretel’s mats, also makes the illusion work.
This opera is sung in English, with projected overtitles, except when Gretel sings “Ein Mannlein steht im Walde”. Going back to the German original for this story-song about the little man in the forest was a perfect choice.
Director Jeffrey Madison’s staging often brought the characters onto the apron to get closer to the audience.
The libretto by Adelheid Wette, the composer’s sister, makes the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale much less dark. Gone is the mean stepmother trying to get the kids lost in the forest so there’s more food in the house, replaced by a loving but concerned mother who sends them to the haunted forest to find strawberries.
As a mother, the touching pathos of Jennifer Lien’s “And Now We Must Be Hungry” establishes the dark real-world elements required by the story.
Then Lloyd Reshard, Jr. makes a grand entrance as Father with his resonant baritone. Unfortunately, his lesson on demand and supply economics as well as his warnings about the dangers of the gingerbread witch come after the kids have already been out in the woods.
Ann Gumpper’s scenic design features a forest of gnarled, towering, titled trees, while boulders, wildflowers and a fallen tree trunk cover the front of the orchestra pit. The family’s hovel and the witch’s cage-house-oven triptych certainly belong in a fairy tale.
We only see the Witch in Act 3, after the intermission, with Act 2 dedicated to Hansel and Gretel’s adventures in the forest, where they meet the little Forest Spirits in their pretty costumes. As the scene shifts to the Black Forest, Alex Flinner’s lighting achieves a true “Where the Wild Things Are” vibe.
Dirk Meyer’s 25-piece orchestra sounded great all evening, especially during “The Witches’ Ride” interlude connecting the first two acts.
The irony of the big voice in Mark Daniel Hakes’ Sleep Fairy being better suited to keeping kids awake than putting them to sleep was amusing.
Then, in the “Pantomime,” choreographed by LilaAnn Coates White, Kentaro Shiozawa dances as the Founding Tree, the oldest forest spirit, who guides the spirits of tree, rock, wind, and earth. water to protect sleeping Hansel and Gretel.
If anything speaks for LOON’s reputation in the operatic world, it’s that a singer like soprano Caroline Kouma comes to town just to provide vocal fireworks for Dew Fairy’s short little aria.
Vicki Fingalson’s witch appears in a gorgeous black and chartreuse costume by Ora Jewell-Busche, with a Margaret Hamilton-level cackle. Watching Fingalson chew up the scenery – but not the kids – is great fun.
As you might expect, this production is an ideal first opera for young people. Most children already know the story, so there’s no need to explain anything, not to mention the courtesans, the drinking, or why the tenor and soprano are buried alive in a tomb. Egyptian.
Most importantly, beyond the wonderful singing, there’s so much for the kids to see, including the 18-member Children’s Chorus, first as Forest Spirits and later as the Cookie Chorus.
So kids lucky enough to see this show will definitely experience the full theatrical package.
However, one final warning. No matter your age, seeing a magical cottage you can eat will absolutely trigger your sweet tooth.
- What: “Hansel and Gretel” from the Opéra Lyrique du Nord
- When: 7 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Sunday
- Where: Marshall Performing Arts Center, University of Minnesota Duluth, 1215 Ordean Court
- Tickets: $27 to $57; children and students $12 with valid student ID
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts critic for the Duluth News Tribune. This review is based on Wednesday’s dress rehearsal performance.