"Hansel and Gretel" may be a fairy tale, but Utah Opera's production of Humperdinck's work is certain to be enjoyed by all ages. Saturday's opening night unveiled a delightful production with a strong cast and good performances all around.
Kathleen Brett, singing the role of Gretel, gives a particularly noteworthy performance, paired with Janine Hawley as Hansel. While Hawley also gives a good performance, her voice was, on Saturday, sometimes a little lost beneath the orchestra, and there were a couple of moments when she didn't sound as vocally strong as Brett (during the prayer duet in Act I, for example). But these incidents were minor and didn't really detract from either her performance or the opera.
Brett and Hawley make a good pair as brother and sister. From a physical perspective, they have similar coloring and facial features, and their voices are also quite similar and blend well. There is also a believable chemistry between the two; they work well together.
After the two main leads, John Easterlin, singing the role of the witch, is by far the most memorable character. His hilarious portrayal in Act II keeps the audience laughing and adds a wonderful splash of color to the opera as a whole.
From a vocal point of view, Easterlin tends to switch back and forth between two distinct and very different sounds: the evil witch, complete with cackle and delightful wickedness, and a clear, lovely tenor voice (which doesn't sound at all like a witch), with nothing in between. The orchestra also tends to cover him up in his low and middle registers (but keep in mind, this is a pretty heavily orchestrated work). Still, what Easterlin brings to this character far outweighs any criticisms, and he like the rest of the cast is overall quite strong.
Victor Bendetti, who sings the role of Father, and Gwendolyn Jones, as Mother, also deserve mention for fine performances. Although they make a relatively brief appearance in the opera, they add an important dimension.
From a visual point of view, the most memorable part is the forest animals. The costume department has done a beautiful job of creating various forest creatures that come out and investigate the two, after Hansel and Gretel fall asleep (in Act I). The youngsters who play the angels, animals and gingerbread children, also add a lovely element to the production.
"Hansel and Gretel" will be appealing to children old enough to attend. It's not too long or scary but it is sung in German with English supertitles, which may be distracting and/or difficult for those who don't read quickly. But the plot is simple and the acting clear, so even slow readers should be able to follow what's going on, even if they don't get the word-by-word detail.
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