With an orchestra that gave a lively, nostalgic performance, UConn Opera Theater performed a rendition of composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera version of the classic fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.”
From the very overture, you could tell that the music was going to be a highlight of the show. The opening strings conveyed a simultaneous sense of excitement, fear and longingness. Though this may sound like random emotions to play for a fairy tale, consider its famous plot.
“Hansel and Gretel” has core themes of sibling rivalry, familial love and a growing up – all complex ideas that can be interpreted many different ways. You might wish to be a child again, but what about the fear of the unknown; the monsters of the dark that possibly await you?
Both of the actresses on stage, who played Hansel and Gretel, were convincing in illustrating their loyal relationship to each other: not just by their bickering, but their playful banter. At one moment they’d be arguing over eating strawberries in the forest, but in the next moment realize that they’re lost and start trying to comfort each other.
One particularly memorable moment was when Gretel asked Hansel to put on a band of flowers, only to have Hansel slightly consider it but then rebuke her, telling her that boys shouldn’t wear them.
In another sequence, they both attempted to pin the blame on each other to their mother for not doing chores in their household, before eventually physically moving together once both get an equal amount of verbal abuse. It’s convincing, delightful and perfectly symbolic of their child-like carefreeness.
Though the first act was mainly setting up context for the two children and their eventual meeting with a witch in the woods, the end of it was exceptionally dream-like. This was when a group of stage crew members in black, carrying large, lit doll-like angel figurines above them, walked from the back of the theater to on stage, circling the two children as they dreamed of becoming royalty. It was such a spectacular and surreal moment to the point where you could almost forget that there were non-actors on stage just carrying props.
By the middle of the show’s second act, we are finally introduced to the villain and witch of the story, who is played by an actor that is just as convincing in his performance as the main characters are. Along with introducing herself to the skeptical children as “Rosina Daisymouth” (to widespread laughter), the witch is consistently chilling, hilarious and yet dangerously charming in her efforts to trick the kids and eat them.
The audience roared in approval at the end of one of her songs, which had a segment where the witch dances while holding a broomstick, even moving it around like a guitar at some points. Wait until you see her demise: when she’s thrown into her own oven. It’s kind of funny, but also pretty disturbing.
Saturday’s production of “Hansel and Gretel” showed that while childhood is marked by a conflict between moments of simplistic bliss and despair, it’s primarily defined by a constant and imaginative motor that moves you into adulthood.