Opera Mariposa
rt Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel

Dates and Venues 13 December, 2014 @ 2pm in the Richmond Cultural Centre Performance Hall and 20 December, 2014 @ 7:30pm at Marpole United Church, 1296 West 67th Avenue, Vancouver

Reviewer Roger Wayne Eberle

Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel is a simple straightforward fairy tale opera. The two lead characters, Hansel (Amber Rose Johnson) and Gretel (Claire McLaughlin) are left by their mother (Jennifer Cyr) to perform simple chores, but instead they fritter the time away playing and dancing. Their mother returns to scold them and sends them off hungry into the forest to gather strawberries. There they tease one another—mostly Gretel teasing Hansel—and meet up with two spiritual beings: the Sandman (Holly MacLaren) and the Dew Fairy (Katrina Goh).

Finally, Hansel and Gretel run across a house made entirely of candy. This is too much for them to resist, and they proceed to glut themselves until the owner of the house, the Witch (Sergio Augusto Flores) appears. She promptly puts a spell on the two and proceeds to try and fatten up young Hansel—a plan that ultimately fails. When the Witch attempts to lure Gretel into the oven, this back-up plan also fails, because Gretel cleverly pretends she needs to be shown how to stand tippy-toe in front of the oven. Let’s just say fire was made for evil.

In the operatic finale, the message is that when things get tough, God provides a way out. But, there were not many scenes when you would want to look for your own way out of this fine opera: aside from a few dull moments when either sleepy little numbers were sung in wispy tones by Holly MacLaren or Jennifer Cyr’s overly strident songs.

Ms. Johnson manages to be entirely believable in her masculine role as Hansel, and her often sultry mezzo-soprano blends rather well with Ms. McLaughlin’s forceful, sonorous, and dynamic soprano. There is a real contrapuntal interplay between these two leads, but it is clear that McLaughlin delivers a superior dramatic performance, constantly engaging the audience with her meaningful and vividly-portrayed facial expressions.

If Johnson does a capable job of acting as a boy, Flores puts the fun into his drag-me-down-laughing portrayal of the Witch. He had the children in the front row of the audience actively participating right from his initial appearance on the stage, as he pranced around in a purple corset and a purple wig with his black beard perfectly matching his black dress and shoes. If his tenor occasionally becomes a soprano, the audience laughs along right up to his embroiling end.

© 2014 Roger Wayne Eberle