Has a top Cast and all the Magic of a Fairy Tale.

By Iride Aparicio

Photos by: Pat Kirk

Soprano SARA GARTLAND as Gretel and Mezzo Soprano
Soprano SARA GARTLAND as Gretel and Mezzo Soprano

SAN JOSÉ, CA – When after its Overture is over,  an ópera begins with two children, a girl and a boy, running in front of the closed stage's curtain giggling, we deduce that when that curtain opens we are going to see something magical . And on Sunday’s Opening  of  Opera San Jose’s production of HANSEL AND GRETEL with its second cast,  it happened.

The Magic begins with the sets designed by LARRY HANCOCK and JOHN DRAGINOFF: the inside of the children’s rustic cottage, the deep forest, and the confectionery Gingerbread house of the witch, with its walls decorated with candies. The sets look so enchanting, that they could easily be compared to the books' illustrations one sees in the pages of children’s fairy tales. The colorful costumes designed by ELIZABETH POINDEXTER and the lighting design of PAMILA GRAY create the “magic” atmosphere and complete the effect.

Hansel and GretelHansel and Gretel are the main characters of  a children’s fairy tale, written by JACOB and WILHELM GRIMM (THE BROTHERS’ GRIMM). belonging to group of European tales especially popular in the Baltic regions about children outwitting ogres, in this case, a witch who lures children to her house made out of Gingerbread and decorated with candies.

While many are familiar with the fairy tale, some people do not know how the ópera came to be, and that many of its melodies were originally written for children.  It all started when ADELHEID WETTE, (who wrote the ópera Libretto and some of its lyrics) who was composer’s  ENGELBERG HUMPERDINK’s youngest sister, wanting to surprise her husband on his birthday with an“original gift,”

   L-R Gretel and Hansel     Photo by: Chris Ayers                                                                               (in which their children could participate)  asked her brother, to write the songs for her own "adaptation" of Hansel and Gretel, the tale about a brother and a sister, who starving for food, are sent by their mother to fetch berries to the Ilsenstain Hunted Forrest, where they get lost.

Utilizing some German Folk songs as models, and his technique in composition,  HUMPERDINK wrote the music as a piano piece with dialogue.  Later on, he orchestrated the score and adding songs, converted it into an Opera from the Fairy Tale Opera Genre.  It  premiere at the Hof theatre in Weimar, Germany on December 23, l893 where it was conducted by RICHARD STRAUSS. Because of its popularity, HANSEL and GRETEL has been considered the composer’s masterpiece.

On its 30th anniversary Season,  Opera San José, under the direction of  its General Director, IRENE DALIS,  is presenting HANSEL and GRETEL, Sung in English, as the second ópera of the 2013-2014 OSJ Season. The Opera is Directed by LYNA CHIANAKAS, and has top singers in both its different  casts.

The cast we saw on Sunday Afternoon includes: Mezzo Soprano  KINDRA SCHARICH in the role of Hansel,  Soprano SARA GARTLAND as Gretel. Mezzo Soprano BUFFY BAGGOTT  as Gertrude (the children’s mother) KRASSEN KARAGIOZOV as Peter, (the children’s father) ANTONIA TAMER as the Dew Fairy, and Tenor JAMES CALLON as the Witch.

While the singing in the ópera is classical, the “acting” is not demanding, but should be done with charm by those playing the children,  and with a "little" veracity by those playing the adults’ parts. Because in the production, the children are the “stars” most of the action is focused on them.

In this production, both  SCHARICH as Hansel and GARTLAND who plays the role of Gretel, represented their roles as “children” with conviction, specially SCHARICH,  who played her HANSEL with a mischievous smile in her face. Both singers sang their parts well and were convincing in their roles as two starving children, left home alone, who do not want to do their "work" Hansel's making  brooms, and Gretel mending socks. When Hansel continues complaining, GARTLAND, in a well tuned melodious lyric voice reminds him that "when the need is greatest, God, The Lord, puts out His hand."


 as Gertrud in Opera San José production of HANSEL and GRETEL

As Hansel and Gretel’s mother, Mezzo-Soprano  BAGGOT  sang well and played her short role convincingly, demonstrating to the audience how upset she was when she found both her children playing. She also managed in her facial exprssion, to show us her mother's concern of knowing that both her children are hungry. On his part,  Baritone KARAGIOZOV (Peter) who has a beautiful mellow timbre in his voice, could not  make us believe that he was drunk or how  happy he was, because (as Gretel believed)  God had helped him. He had sold all his brooms at the market on that day and was able to buy a basket of food. While the voice was beautiful, what the baritone needed to perfect his role, was change his facial expression. The role of Dew Fairy was well sang, and so was the role of  JAMES CALLON who  played his role as Witch well, but because the role itself is so unbelievable, it is almost impossible  to make it look real.  In the direction of the Opera, we found one flaw, which is that that there is no reason for the man playing the witch, to undress on the stage and show the audience "her" underwear.

Under the Direction of conductor JOSEPH MARCHESO, the orchestra allowed all  the voices of the singers to be heard and all HUMPERDINK’s  pauses and dynamics were well interpreted. . The production is visual, The music lively and the story of HANSEL and GRETEL ideal for both parents and children.

The Opera  will play (with two different casts) at the California Theatre from November 16 to December 1st Those interested in Tickets can order them by phone at  408-437-4450 or go online to:  www.operasj.org