Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Hansel & Gretel (an opera review post)

All right, last opera review for 2019.

Last year, SFO performed It's a Wonderful Life, a west coast premier, as their December opera. Considering the story takes place at Christmas, it was a timely production. Maybe that started a trend of doing Christmas-associated operas because, this year, they did Hansel & Gretel. What does Hansel & Gretel have to do with Christmas? Well, nothing on the surface, but you can google it and figure out the association for yourself. Which is to say that it has been associated with Christmas since its earliest productions. It is about candy, after all.

The opera version of Hansel & Gretel has some differences from the fairy tale, most specifically, the children are not abandoned in the woods; they just get lost.

Which is fine, actually, because a surprising number of kids were at the performance we saw, and SFO had some special activities for the kids associated with the opera. It was a lighthearted and fun production despite the fact that there is a witch trying to cook and eat the children.

Hansel and Gretel were played by Sasha Cooke and Heidi Stober, respectively, and were a delight. They were equally believable as a pair of bickering siblings and as a brother and sister trying to save each other's lives. The rest of the cast is great, too, but the production really hinges on these two, and they nailed it.

However, easily the best part of the show had nothing to do with the children. They fall asleep in the haunted wood and, during the night, all of the characters from Grimm's fairy tales come out into the woods and do what they do. It was a spectacular and fantastical ballet number, rather magical. I would have gone for that. And I'm not a ballet person. Meaning, other than a local production of The Nutcracker, I've never been to the ballet. My entire experience with it comes from opera. Which is actually where it originated from, so I suppose that's appropriate.

I can't say for sure that Hansel & Gretel was my favorite production this fall, but I also can't say that it wasn't. I really enjoyed it, surprisingly so, actually. It was not at all what we were expecting.


  1. That sounds fun! I can see how the kids getting lost instead of purposely abandoned by a father and step father wouldn't change the story inappropriately. As a kid, the witch was always less horrifying than the thought of parents not wanting their children and purposely leading them out to die.

  2. I hadn't heard that Hansel and Gretel was connected to Christmas at all. It's probably good that they don't do the whole "parents abandoning children in the woods" in this one.