CLEVELAND - A child-eating witch at the Cleveland Orchestra and a customer-slaying barber at the Cleveland Opera.
Hmm, sounds like grisly holiday fare.
But unlike Sweeney Todd, which opens tonight at Cleveland Opera, the opera
Hansel and Gretel, which opened in a concert production Thursday night by
the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Moest, does have a happy ending
suited to the season.
Thursday's sparkling production of the Engelbert Humperdinck opera was
lit up from the inside by the playful, innocent performances of soprano Malin
Hartelius as Gretel and mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer as Hansel. The orchestra
played with a singing line that carried along the folk music-inflected writing.
Hartelius and Mentzer were beautifully matched, both vocally and as actors
in this classic children's story. Mentzer's voluptuous mezzo always allowed
Hartelius' brighter soprano to show.
As Hansel, Mentzer plunged her hands into her pants pockets and pulled
faces at Hartelius, dressed in a gathered skirt and looking fresh-faced as
a schoolgirl. Whether getting bawled out by their mother (Denise Knowlton,
a mezzo with excellent projection of a tone that sometimes went shrill) or
trying to fool the Witch, the two were both deeply engaged in their roles.
Sometimes, as in this case, the role of the Witch is sung by a man instead
of a woman. Volker Vogel mugged up his part, making the most of the comic
element. As the Father, the veteran baritone Hakan Hagegard brought a well-honed
professionalism to the role, though he was less convincingly involved in
the drama than his stage children. Malia Bendi Merad doubled nicely as The
English surtitles were supplied to translate the original German text.
There were no sets or staging (the singers simply sat onstage in front of
the orchestra), but explanations in the surtitles made the scenes clear.
And while the costuming was mostly limited to variations on black, it
was a clever idea to have the talented young singers of the Cleveland Orchestra
Children's Chorus wear bright, candy-colored shirts for their entrance onstage
at the end.
The witch's spell was broken, the children were miraculously brought back to life, and all was good.
The Cleveland Orchestra performs Engelbert Humperdinck's 'Hansel and Gretel'
(in German with English surtitles) at 8 tonight, Saturday, at Severance Hall,
11001 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Tickets are $27-$75. Call 216-231-1111 or 800-686-1141.