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CCM's "Hansel and Gretel" a Delight

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Nov 23, 2014 - 9:22:36 PM in reviews_2014

Hansel and Gretel after shoving the Witch into the oven (photo by Mark Lyons)
Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” lent itself easily to updating Sunday afternoon in Corbett Auditorium at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Opening in a 1930s Depression-Era kitchen, the CCM opera department production moved easily to an abstract-looking woods, with props moved in and out for scenic transformation.

Directed by opera department chair Robin Guarino, with scenic design by Mark Halpin, it was a thoroughly charming production, fully consummate with Humperdinck’s timeless music. The opera was sung in English with English supertitles.

Leading the 65-piece CCM Concert Orchestra in this performance was Rebecca Tong, who brought the lush score beautifully to life.

Making a well-matched Hansel and Gretel were mezzo-soprano Adria Caffaro and soprano Talya Lieberman, respectively, with tenor Jason Weisinger in drag as the wicked Witch.

Caffaro and Lieberman – the latter dressed in period saddle shoes and sox -- bickered with enthusiasm in act I, delivered an oh-so-touching “Evening Prayer” when lost in the woods in act II and supported each other steadfastly when they dispatched the Witch in act III. Caffaro’s boyish mannerisms were at all times convincing, and the two grooved delightfully in their dance scenes.

Smartly dressed in a suit with hat, heels, handbag and pearls, Weisinger inhabited her plum role with great bluster and humor.

Mezzo-soprano Nicollete Book as The Mother and baritone Andrew Manea as The Father were well cast in their supporting roles., as were sopranos Hillary Grobe as a trench-coated Sandman and Autumn West as the white-clad Dew Fairy. Members of the Cincinnati Children's Choir were perfect as the offstage chorus of echoes.

Highlights of the performance were many. One was the prayer scene, in act II, where Hansel and Gretel knelt and sang, with snow falling in the background. Another came during the dream pantomime, also in act II, where the 14 angels, all children, cavorted on an angelic playground, with a swing, a seesaw and bicycles hanging over the stage, as the children looked on.

The dawn in act III was beautifully pink-lit as the Dew Fairy, sung sweetly by West, woke the sleeping children.

The gingerbread house, dollhouse-size and well-stocked with sweets, rolled in to tempt the siblings in advance of the Witch’s arrival.

Weisinger – a kind of evil Julia Child – presided over a hilarious baking scene, tossing bags of flour into the air as she prepared to roast Gretel in the oven. (The cake on her counter top was, appropriately, an angel cake with wings.) Hansel and Gretel shoved her into a vintage oven, before the gingerbread children (prior captives of the Witch) came back to life in a final, joyous victory dance.