A Twisted Tale


Photo by Erin Burns.

Photo by Erin Burns.
Photo by Erin Burns.
Lost in the woods, two hungry siblings find a sugarcoated cottage to use as shelter. While the house is sweet on the outside, the inside reeks of death. Trapped by a wicked witch, the brother and sister fear they will repeat the fate of the skeletons that cover the floor of their gingerbread prison.
Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” is a childhood classic. Tonight and Saturday evening, the University Lyric Opera Ensemble is taking another look at the worn pages of this bedtime story. Lighting up Kingsbury Hall’s stage, the production has tweaked “Hansel and Gretel’s” narrative. With the addition of new characters, a score composed by Engelbert Humperdinck, and moving scenery, “Hansel and Gretel” can be called opera-friendly.
In this singing spectacular, the characters of Hansel and Gretel stick with their original description. In sibling fashion, they bicker, play, and make mischief. And while Hansel and Gretel’s personas follow fairy tale tradition, the University Lyric Opera reworked many of the fairy tale’s other personalities.
Instead of a conniving stepmother plotting the demise of her stepchildren, the opera’s matriarch is loving but short-tempered. In the original story, a white bird leads the children to the witch’s haven of dark magic. In this musical rendition, a flock of feathered angels protect the children as they sleep in the forest brush.
“Hansel and Gretel” wouldn’t be the same without an evil witch. Of course, the opera’s villain is malicious and yearns for the taste of young flesh. Nonetheless, the University Lyric Opera gave the witch a wand and cured her of blindness, her main fault in the original tale.
From character rewrites to the implementation of other artistic mediums, this production is working to break opera stereotypes. In the show, ballerinas float across the stage. Some of the dancers act as witch apprentices. By dancing interpretive steps, these assistants lure Hansel and Gretel into the deep woods and to the candy-laced dwelling.
Rather than Italian or French, “Hansel and Gretel” is performed in English. While the venue still screens subtitles, English lyrics are easier to follow and enjoy.