Lyric Opera of Chicago
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  • by Engelbert Humperdinck
  • In German with projected English texts.

    Lyric Opera coproduction with the Welsh National Opera.

  • Running time: 2h 11m

“A brilliant concoction of slapstick humor and darkly psychological imagery.” Chicago Sun-Times

This deliciously enthralling show has won accolades on two continents, and the lushly romantic score is beloved by all. But for those who think all fairytales are sugarcoated, remember that the Brothers Grimm usually lived up to their name. Food and the lack of it propel the story of two children who dream not of toys but of having enough to eat. When the family cupboard’s bare, their mother (no June Cleaver!) sends them into the very dark forest to find the evening meal. Encounters with the Sandman and the Dew Fairy turn out to be lovely—but meeting the Witch is anything but. Like some deranged Julia Child, she’s got a very sinister reason for wanting to add more butter to fatten up these children.

With just enough scary and gruesome ingredients, plus a hilarious food-flinging scene, Hansel and Gretel appeals to kids, too. So bring them! Child prices are $20–50. Subject to availability, prices subject to change.

 


The vocal requirements for Hansel and Gretel are anything but kid stuff. Their voices must soar above Humperdinck’s Wagnerian-sized orchestra! Elizabeth DeShong has a “spellbinding, rich sound” (Los Angeles Times) and “makes a remarkable, tough little bruiser of a Hansel.” The Telegraph, London

Maria Kanyova is “dazzling, producing a wonderfully pearly sound throughout and handling Gretel’s lightning-fast mood shifts with verve.” Los Angeles Times

Lyric Opera coproduction originally made possible by The Vance Family Fund, with additional funding from BP America Inc. Revival generously made possible by ITW, Susan B. and Nicolas Noyes and Make It Better Media, and the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation.

Starring

  • Elizabeth DeShong

    Hansel

    Elizabeth DeShong

    Elizabeth DeShong has a “spellbinding, rich sound” (Los Angeles Times) and “makes a remarkable, tough little bruiser of a Hansel.” The Telegraph, London

  • Maria Kanyova

    Gretel

    Maria Kanyova

    Maria Kanyova is “dazzling, producing a wonderfully pearly sound throughout and handling Gretel’s lightning-fast mood shifts with verve.” Los Angeles Times

  • Jill Grove

    Witch

    Jill Grove

Elektra - Christine Goerke

Hansel
Elizabeth DeShong† †

Hansel - Maria Kanyova

Gretel
Maria Kanyova† † 

Elektra - Jill Grove

Witch
Jill Grove

Elektra - Alan Held

Mother
Julie Makerov*

Elektra - Roger Honeywell

Father
Brian Mulligan

Aida - Raymond Aceto

Conductor
Ward Stare*

Hansel - Eric Einhorn

Director
Eric Einhorn*

Aida - Kocan

Original Production
Richard Jones

 

Designer
John Macfarlane

 

Aida - Joel

Lighting
Jennifer Tipton

 

*Lyric Debut
† current member, Ryan Opera Center
† † alumnus/ alumna, Ryan Opera Center

Greater Chicago Food Depository Partnership

Hansel & Gretel are two hungry kids who have a happy ending. Help some real hungry kids have a happy ending, too.

Did you know that hunger disproportionately affects children? 1 in 5 children in Cook County are unsure where they will find their next meal.

Join Lyric Opera of Chicago in helping the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Beginning November 30, paper grocery bags will be available for audience members to fill with donated food items. The bags can then be returned to the box office lobby of the Civic Opera House from 12-6pm December 7-21, as well as during the performances listed below. Food donations will also be accepted at any of the 300+ food drive drop-off locations throughout the city. More info.

Dec. 7, 7:30pm: Hansel & Gretel

Dec. 8, 7:30pm: Don Pasquale

Dec. 10, 7:30pm: Don Pasquale

Dec. 12, 7:30pm: Hansel & Gretel

Dec. 14, 2pm: Hansel &Gretel

Dec. 15, 7:30pm: Don Pasquale

Dec. 16, 2pm: Hansel & Gretel

 

 

Darkly Delicious

Lyric’s Hansel and Gretel: A fairytale with bite

By Roger Pines + Magda Krance

There’s no sugarcoating it: if Hansel and Gretel were merely a “nice” children’s story, it would be as dull as cream-of-boiled-water soup. Befitting its Grimm origins, the fairytale mixes hair-raising, heroic, funny, and poignant elements to perfection, satisfying the tastes of the currently and formerly young alike.

Accordingly, there’s nothing saccharine about this season’s revival of Engelbert Humperdinck’s beloved opera, which first startled, delighted, and moved Lyric audiences in 2001-02. In this brilliantly imaginative coproduction with Welsh National Opera, the forest’s “trees” are somberly suited supernumeraries with bare branches covering their faces and berries in their pockets, looking like something from a surrealist painting by Magritte come to life. A painted scrim of a gigantic open mouth with teeth bared and a chocolate cake on its extended tongue evokes famous images from Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd albums. Best of all is the witch herself, a Dan-Aykroyd-as-Julia Child-inspired chef run amok in a vast professional kitchen. She’ll have audiences howling with horrified laughter as she smears herself with flour, flings ingredients merrily around the stage, and trusses and stuffs poor terrified Hansel like a suckling pig.

First seen at WNO in 1998, this H&G earned the hugely prestigious Olivier Award for Best Opera Production in 2000. It was Lyric’s general director, Anthony Freud, who commissioned it during his tenure in the same position at WNO. Freud finds the production ideal for children – indeed, “more perfect for our kids of today than a more traditional approach. It’s wickedly funny, but also very dark at the same time.”

 

H&G is one of Freud’s favorite operas – and the first he ever saw as a very young child.  He doesn’t remember much about that initial experience, yet he believes that his lifelong enthusiasm for the piece is somehow connected to that early exposure. Like Freud, production designer John Macfarlane adores H&G, and agrees that children will eat up (figuratively speaking) the production. Macfarlane never saw the opera growing up, and when director Richard Jones asked him to collaborate, “I came to it absolutely wowed by the music. I approached the piece with no preconceived ideas about it, which was great.”

Macfarlane and Jones place H&G in the 1950s, when Europe was still recovering after the war and life for countless families was still pretty bleak. We see that clearly in the dingy home of Hansel (mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong), Gretel (soprano Maria Kanyova), and their impoverished parents (soprano Julie Makerov, debut, and baritone Brian Mulligan). The opera opens in a stark, drab kitchen. The walls and all the fixtures are dingy off-white, as are the children’s clothes, almost like a sepia-toned photo. Jones’s direction makes clear that the kids not only have nothing to do (except for their undone chores) – they’re also aching with hunger. Choreographer Linda Dobell has created impressively authentic movement for the bored, hungry, fidgety siblings; once Hansel and Gretel start acting out, all their pent-up energy explodes. They grimace, tussle, tease, dance, and literally bounce off the walls until they’re caught goofing off by their furious mother. When the precious jug of milk breaks, it’s the last straw.

She sends Hansel and Gretel into the forest to pick berries for supper, which they impulsively devour, excitedly smearing their faces and clothes in the process. Darkness falls; lost and terrified, they’re lulled to sleep by the eerily comforting figure of the Sandman, (originally depicted by a spidery puppet, and in later revivals by a costumed singer).  In a deeply touching reimagining of the children’s dream, the usual 14 angels are replaced by rotund chefs as puffy as giant marshmallows, dressed in brilliant white aprons with toques on their identical large cartoonish heads, each carrying a covered platter. The children don formal wear themselves, and it’s a glorious moment when, as Act Two ends, the platters are uncovered and the children sit at opposite ends of a beautifully set banquet table, chandeliers and all, ready to enjoy a magical feast.                  

After the purposefully plain design of Act One, says Macfarlane, “you can’t take the piece into the land of M&Ms and chocolate and a cuddly cartoon witch.  It’s much more believable that if you’re a starving child, you don’t dream about angels – you dream about fat, overweight little chefs who cook fabulous food for you! That would absolutely be their fantasy, wouldn’t it? Starving, deprived children sitting at this table with plenty of food.”

Macfarlane finds that audiences invariably remember the dream sequence – especially the supernumerary playing the maître d’, whose head is that of a fish. This was actually a last-minute choice, made by the designer and director during the final rehearsals for the production’s 1998 premiere in Wales. “We wanted the waiter to be an old man, but a woman was going to play the role and she looked like Audrey Hepburn – we couldn’t make her ugly if we tried.” Macfarlane asked Jones, “Why don’t we use etchings of Grandville [1803-47], the French illustrator?” (Grandville created fanciful images of insects dressed in formal attire, inspiring Macfarlane’s idea for a fish or lizard as waiter.)  Once Jones agreed, “we got that head together in two days. I built it in paper sculpture and rushed it over to the costumer. I was just folding paper, cutting and scoring and bending it, marking where the eyes and gills would be. The milliner started on it, and we had it for the first full dress rehearsal.”

The children are awakened by the Dew Fairy – here a perfect Mad Men-era housewife, complete with perky apron and rubber gloves. Their wandering brings them to the kitchen of the witch (mezzo-soprano Jill Grove), where they don party hats and eat themselves silly on sausage links and sauerkraut (Hansel washes these down with real brown beer), pudding, cakes, tarts, milkshakes – even Nutella chocolate spread! Eventually, the horrible truth sinks in, and a heroic battle of wits ensues.

Jones and Macfarlane wanted the witch to resemble “the sinister old lady who lives down the street,” notes the designer. “She’s the lady whose garden is overgrown, and you never go into that garden because she’ll shout at you – and  you never see any life in her windows. She has to be part of that world to be consistent with the line of the production.” The youngsters trick the witch and push her into the enormous oven, where she’s baked to a crisp. The children Hansel and Gretel have just freed from the witch’s clutches are about to devour her – in the form of a giant cookie – as the curtain falls.

One thing Freud especially admires about this opera is “the contrast between the very savage, very brutal Brothers Grimm fairy story, on which the opera is based, and the highly romanticized, very beautiful music to which it’s set.” What makes the Jones production so unforgettable is that “the combination of the brutality and dark comedy of the story with the lush Romanticism of the music is brought into close proximity. It’s one of the most magical fusions of music and theater that I’ve ever experienced.”

Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera, recommends these performances.

On CD

Gruberova, Murray, Ludwig; Staatskapelle Dresden, cond. C. Davis (Decca )

Bonney, von Otter, Lipovšek; Bavarian Radio Symphony, cond. Tate (EMI Classics)

Donath, Moffo, Ludwig; Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra, cond. Eichhorn (RCA Victor Red Seal)

Sung in English
Murphy, Mentzer, Forst; Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, cond. Delfs (Avie)

Evans, Larmore, Henschel; Philharmonia Orchestra, cond. Mackerras (Chandos)

Of special historical interest
Schwarzkopf, Grümmer, Schürhoff; Philharmonia Orchestra, cond. Karajan (EMI Classics)

On DVD

Schäfer, Coote, Langridge; Metropolitan Opera, cond. Jurowski, dir. Jones (EMI Classics label)

Gruberova, Fassbänder, Jurinac; Vienna Philharmonic, cond. Solti, dir. Everding (Deutsche Grammophon)

Sung in English

Blegen, von Stade, Elias; Metropolitan Opera, cond. Fulton, dir. Merrill (Deutsche Grammophon)

Suggestions for Further Reading

The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales  by Maria Tatar, Princeton University Press, 1987.

Selected tales [collected] by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm  by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated with an introduction and notes by David Luke, Penguin Books, 1982.

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales  by Bruno Bettelheim, Vintage, 1989.

Hansel + Gretel

Hansel and Gretel
by Engelbert Humperdinck

© 2012/13 Lyric Opera Commentaries 2012 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Produced by Mark Travis. Daniel Goldberg, Associate Producer.

Hansel and Gretel Audio Preview

Sir Andrew Davis previews Hansel and Gretel 

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Hansel & Gretel Discovery Series

We all know the children's story of two kids getting lost in the woods and happening upon a witch who lives in a gingerbread house. But the opera, especially this production, goes much deeper into the characters and their motivations. Elizabeth DeShong (Hansel), Maria Kanyova (Gretel), and general director Anthony Freud give you the what's-what on this late-Romantic classic.

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