We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Maestro Thomas Muraco and the cast of Hansel and Gretel at Manhattan School of Music
We like to ask people we meet to name their favorite opera.  No one has ever named Engelbert Humperdink's Hänsel und Gretel and we find that curious.  It is gloriously melodic with many tunes derived from German folk music; the story is charming and based on a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm; it has a happy ending; it offers some excellent roles for sopranos, mezzos and a baritone; and it doesn't require a tenor!  Not that we have anything against tenors.

It was 1891 when the composer's sister Adelheid Wette (sounds like a good name for one of the Walkyries) suggested she set some of her poetry to music and he wound up writing a full-fledged opera.  In 1893 none other than Richard Strauss conducted it, followed soon after by Gustav Mahler.  It found its way to the USA by the following year and has been in the repertory ever since.  We have mostly heard it sung around Christmas time and in English, perhaps so that children could attend; we have nothing against children (well, not much) but were delighted to hear the opera sung in German at the Manhattan School of Music, conducted by none other than the celebrated Maestro Thomas Muraco.  Just watching his intense involvement and enthusiasm left no doubt that he loves this work as much as we do.

In place of an orchestra, the accompaniment was provided by two pianists, George Hemcher and Kira Whiting, with significant contributions from harpist Yeon Hwa Chung and violinist Jacob Bass. There is a satisfying cohesion to this work with themes occurring and reoccurring throughout the evening.  The overture begins with a statement of the Abendsegen, the Evening Prayer, followed by a plethora of contrasting themes which are developed in a manner suggestive of the first movement of a symphony.  We even heard echoes of Schubert's "Ave Maria".

Maestro Muraco's Opera Repertoire Ensemble has some pretty amazing performers on its roster.  We heard seven fine young singers last night and if you are fortunate enough to acquire tickets for Friday night you will hear six different ones with only one repeat--Helena Brown,m a big girl with a big voice making a big impression as the Witch.  The girl has other talents, having done a creditable job on the make-up for the Sandman (Jessica Fishenfeld) and the Dew Fairy (Cherissia Williams) as well as for herself.

Gretel was sung by soprano Bryn Holdsworth, dressed in a pinafore, coiffed in braids and pouring out some gorgeous sounds. Hänsel was finely sung by Kendra Broom who wore one of those ubiquitous animal hats and was totally convincing as a boy.  The two "children" behaved just as siblings do in real life--squabbling, teasing, complaining about doing chores and being hungry; it had a most authentic feel.  When the step-mother (Elizabeth Novella) comes home, she is tired and cranky and feeling guilty about her hungry children.  She sends them to the forest to pick berries.

And then....father comes home drunk (BOO!) but loaded down with goodies (YAY!) since he has sold all his brooms.  Baritone Sol Jin gave a superlative performance with a warm rich sound to his voice and impressive stage presence.  The German diction was so accurate that one scarcely needed to glance at the titles.

The angels that watched over the children were dressed all in white and made a fine chorus.  The production was altogether excellent and we recommend it highly.  Maybe we will run into YOU next week or next month and ask YOU to name your favorite opera.  It just might be this one!

© meche kroop

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