Hansel & Gretel’s Miraculous Road Show
The performance differs from what we know and expect from the fairy tale or the original opera by Engelbert Humperdinck and his sister librettist Adelheid Wette.
But this is an unconventional approach by stage director, co-author of the libretto adaptation, and experienced co-author of the set design, Matěj Forman.
And it enchanted the audience members, big and little, at the April 25 matinée.
A Big Show! and Not Just at The Little Cottage by the Wood
Mr Forman and the artist Andrea Sodomková rebuilt the original libretto and Radek Malý newly poeticized it into the Czech language. Hansel and Gretel’s father is a traveling road-show owner and Mum acts in the performances. In the prologue, the village children see puppets in the fairy tale that the Czech children know as The Gingerbread Cabin. (Our reviewer Ema, age 5, observed, “Gee! Yippee! I like that!”)
But Mum is cross with them and expels the dreams, sending the children to the forest to bring some wood. The first act ends with stories about children disappearing from the neighborhood and the witch taking them into the forest. The parents are frightened and they run to save Hansel and Gretel.
During the intermission the road show “Ensemble Humperdinck!” invited us to the GRANDE SPECTACULO! performance out in front of The State Opera, right next to the arterial road. Surprisingly, there was no traffic breakdown. Jugglers were juggling, tumblers tumbling, and we enjoyed some ballet and fire too. Even an entirely half-hearted opera viewer would be amused and delighted.
Back in the theatre, the second and third acts stick to the original libretto. The forest is magic and friendly, full of animals and fairy-tale beings who want to help children.
(Just as our little reviewer Ema began to lose concentration, her face lit up as the puppets appeared.)
Gretel bamboozles the witch and saves not only herself and Hansel, but also the earlier lost babies who were baked into gingerbread figures. The whole family meets, and there’s a happy end. The final chorus sounds cheerfully, even simply, happy.
Opera Singers Act – and Work the Puppets Too
The actresses in the lead roles Apr 25, mezzo Michaela Kapustová (Hansel) and soprano Jana Sibera (Gretel), mastered the basics of puppeteering, and sometimes we did not even notice the alteration from the puppet to the live character or vice-versa. Tenor Martin Šrejma sings the role of the witch, instead of a mezzo-soprano – it is very intensive (although the children are more impressed by her appearance and that it is a man). Quite interesting is the idea of use of a kind of stunt-man, allowing the witch to pop up on stage very unexpectedly.
The Lullaby Fairy (Lucie Silkenová) replaces the original Lullaby Elf and Fairy Denise, and not only makes the story’s children fall asleep, but also carries them to dreamland and wakes them up to the new-born day.
(And our reviewer Ema and all the little ones in the audience were also charmed by the mute character of a dog.)
A Good Introduction to Opera
This performance is an opera for children, so it’s a pity we could hardly understand Mum (Veronika Hajnová) although we tried to follow the text in the booklet. The only one we could easily follow was papa (Jiří Hájek).
The core of Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel is composed of rather simple tunes interlinked with more wistful moments. But with this performance, little opera-goers can have their ‘first go’ at an opera; there is not much of the heavier music that would catch them off guard and discourage them.
Beyond that, the plot on the stage is so absorbing that they probably do not think about it being opera, and accept it as something natural and entertaining. Hansel and Gretel (Jeniček a Mařenka) is a good choice for new opera goers – of all ages.
The next performances of Hansel and Gretel are May 10, 12, 26, and 31 and June 2 and 7, at The State Opera, at various showtimes including some matinées.
— Jana Mlezivová and Ema, Opus Osm guest writers
Photo Credits: Top two: Irena Vodáková; bottom two, Hana Smějkalová