Two adorably mischievous children gaily prance atop a stark white sheet, surrounded by sparse, sapling evergreens and cotton lining on a humble piano, masquerading as virgin snow. The intricately produced music darkens and the figures are visibly shaken. Suddenly, in a nervous show of bravery, with arms protectively enclosed around the slight, shivering form of the other, one defiantly sings “I’m a boy. I’m never lost.”
Perhaps classic notions of male machismo truly do date back to the inception of Hansel and Gretel’s eventful foray into the Ilsenstein forest, though that was hardly the grand revelation of the weekend.
The greatest disclose came in the form of the explosive talent at the Opera Manhattan Repertory Theater, Inc. The space may be small and acoustically-limited, but the sheer ability of sound and sight is almost enough to provide the illusion of the famed Metropolitan Opera House. Once the intricately joyful music started and the costume-clad players appeared center stage, all caprices of extravagant costumes and deco were forgotten. Only the music existed, as it always should in opera.
After a splendid overture, courtesy of Wilson Southerland’s magically agile fingers, the two young leads took the stage.
Radiant soprano Erica Mundy is Gretel and engaging mezzo-soprano Sarah Kennedy is Hansel, whose extraordinarily charming dance tutorial set a rigorously high standard from the very beginning. Thankfully, each subsequent act followed through with impeccable grace and enviable ease.
The comedy came to a brief halt when mother Gertrude (Shannon Capogreco) came home to find her impishly disobedient children playing merrily when they should have, apparently, been adding to the meager household income. The troublesome twosome was thereafter chased into the forest, where they soon met the Dewfairy (Rebecca Grady) and a wicked, cannibalistic witch (Angeliki Theoharis).
Their father, Peter (Gary Ramsey), came home with some fantastic news and the parents began their search. For anyone living under a gingerbread house-sized rock for the last several centuries, that starts the story of “Hansel and Gretel.”
The auditory appeal of Opera Manhattan’s version, directed by Heidi Lauren Duke, is hardly limited to its two young leads. Boasting comic finesse, Ramsey’s over-the-top take on Peter never strays too far past the line of hilarity, as it is a role in which overacting is so terribly easy. Instead, he maintains a beautifully balanced approach to the oft-intoxicated and altogether merry man.
Both Grady and Capogreco were remarkable in their respective roles, bearing strong, booming vocals were only matched by the delicateness of their demeanor.
But none can match the sheer vocal prowess of Theoharis, whose voice can only be compared to a racing waterfall: at once stunning and incredibly, frighteningly powerful. And yet, her magnetic presence leant itself to many laughs, as well. From the moment her bright-clad form came onstage, all eyes were glued and lips helplessly caught in ongoing laughter. Though perhaps hesitant to at the witch’s evil ways, few were immune to her colorful hodgepodge of wicked festivity.
It is incredibly unfortunate that this wonderful performance should end, however, if only for the visual hilarity of Kennedy (who did an absolutely impeccable job of transforming herself into a lazy, pre-adolescent boy) the raw power of Theoharis and the angelic fervor of Mundy.
Photo by Ken Howard