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.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Yen Yu Chen, Louis Ong, Isabella Stollenmeier, Jessica Doolan, Keith Chambers, Jessica Gonzales-Rodriguez, Lisa Nava, Rachel Gomes, and Rebekah Hartie

It was the Gay 90's when composer Engelbert Humperdinck provided music for lyrics written by his sister Adelheide Wette--songs for children derived from a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. The maestro picked up that ball and ran with it, scoring a major musical touchdown with an opera that thrills children and adults alike--Hansel and Gretel.  Who cannot relate to a tale of sibling relationships, parental frustration, and the difficulty of providing for children!

The two siblings in Hansel and Gretel are barely surviving their hunger in a situation of privation. The breaking of a pitcher of milk becomes a major tragedy and the despairing mother sends the children to gather berries in the wood. When Father comes home with food that he earned selling his brooms at a festival, he alerts Mother to the danger of allowing children to go into the forest where lives a Wicked Witch who eats children.

Fortunately the children have some beneficial forces at work to protect them--a Dew Fairy and a Sandman who provides healthy respite from the cares of the day.  The children manage to beat the Witch at her own game, shoving her into the very same oven in which she transformed live children into gingerbread cookies.  All ends happily in a version less gruesome and frightening than the Grimm Brothers' original.  The cookie-kids are even restored to life.

Maestro Keith Chambers of the New Amsterdam Opera and Artistic Director Carlos Tagle provided a fine presentation of this musically glorious work--sung in fine German by participants in the Manhattan Opera Studio. The orchestra was situated on one side of the long narrow Scorca Hall at the National Opera Center; it was an unusual configuration but it worked, allowing the audience to get up close and personal with the performers.
We loved hearing the original German, although the projected titles were not translations of the German that we heard sung but rather rhymed couplets belonging to an English translation. Happily, the singing was as fine as the German diction.

Jessica Doolan has a lovely soprano and an engaging manner that made her a fine  childlike Gretel. Jessica Gonzales-Rodriguez' mezzo-soprano made a satisfactory Hansel but we hope that she will do some work on mastering masculine mannerisms, in order to be more believable in a pants role.

We particularly enjoyed baritone Louis Ong as a forceful father appropriately concerned about his children. Mezzo-soprano Rachael Gomes portrayed the Mother.  As the cannibalistic Wicked Witch, Isabella Stollenmeier needed a big dose of nastiness to be convincing, whereas Yen Yu Chen was all sunshine as the Dew Fairy. Rebekah Hartie did well as the Sandman.

The major pleasure of the evening lay in Maestro Chambers' effective conducting of the reduced orchestra in which the horn and clarinet played major parts.  Humperdinck made liberal use of folk melodies which he orchestrated with fine harmonies reflective of Wagner.  There were moments in the overture when we thought of Parsifal. The prayer is familiar, as is the sibling dancing song. But it is always a treat to hear the entire score.

We were not thrilled with Lisa Nava's direction.  Many of the instructions in the libretto were ignored and the characters rarely faced one another.  It appeared as if they were directed to face the audience. The four singers never seemed to form a family.  We wanted more menace from the witch.

The setting comprised a couple of tree stumps and some brooms made of twigs.  Nothing more was needed. Costumes were cleverly improvised with the Dew Fairy making quite an impression with her sunny yellow dress and parasol.

On the whole, Manhattan Opera Studio provided a delightful exposure to this wonderful opera.  We  were able to hear a single cast but would gladly have heard it twice.

© meche kroop

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