Hansel and Gretel Delights Everyone at San Diego Opera

In his introduction to the opening of “Hansel and Gretel” David Bennett (General Director of San Diego Opera) pointed out this opera was not for kids but about kids. In other words, it is a great production for all ages. Indeed, before the curtain rose, Bennett had everyone under 16 in the audience stand. It was heartwarming for anyone interested in the arts to see the large number of folks who stood, and the supportive embrace of applause the audience gave.

Fortunately, the brisk production lived up to its billing.

Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert is Hansel and soprano Sara Gartland is Gretel in San Diego Opera’s production of Hansel & Gretel.

The clever stage and puppetry design contributed to (but did not distract from) the production. In the lead roles, Blythe Gaissert and Sara Gartland respectively became our alter egos in facing the perennial dangers and attraction of the forest. Gartland was especially evocative in her role as the wiser sibling. Although it is the elder female (Mother) who sends her kids into the forest as punishment, it is the daughter whose head is on the straightest once on their own.

Soprano Gartland’s voice is solid and clear, and her movements around the stage were confident.

Soprano Marcy Stonikas is Gertrude (the mother)

Baritone Malcolm MacKenzie is Peter (the father).

The role of the mother veers mostly between hysterical and relieved, but Marcy Stonikas carries the role well. As the father, Malcolm MacKenzie is assured.

But returning our attention to the stage production, kudos indeed to the design of The Old Trout Puppet Workshop for Vancouver Opera for their clever use of puppetry to add the right touch of magic to the children’s time in the woods. The suspension of disbelief is multi-layered; the audience knows a person is controlling the puppet, but we look to the puppet for the action. The first two acts proceed without intermission, efficiently taking us to a break before the final act. Upon awaking after their night in the woods, the set seems to be about softer watercolor. This marries well with the children’s joy in surviving the evening. But once the witch appears, the watercolor setting is overcome with a more comical gingerbread house.

Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert as Hansel is trapped by tenor Joel Sorensen as the Witch

Englebert Humperdinck’s opera builds on the classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, and has remained in the canon for centuries because of its universal themes.

With six principal singers and a children’s chorus of 14, the production was filled with talent.

The San Diego Opera has kicked off its new season with a sturdy and confident production that will serve to grow its audience in excellent fashion.

Photos by J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.

Ticket information here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.