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Weekend in Review: Chesapeake Chamber Opera performs 'Hansel and Gretel'

Neatly timed for Halloween, Chesapeake Chamber Opera offered a production of Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel," a work that features a delectable witch.

I caught Sunday's matinee at Memorial Episcopal Church, which drew a nice-sized audience, including quite a few kids (some in costume).

This marked the first venture into staged opera by the Chesapeake organization, which started last season with a concert format (albeit a decidedly dynamic version). "Hansel and Gretel" was a good choice for going the staging route, since its storybook flavor lends itself easily to basic costumes and the sort of simple, cartoon-like pieces of scenery (designed by John Seeley) employed here.

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Having taken the step toward more traditional operatic presentation,

company director Beth Stewart probably doesn't need to do any narration, even the relatively brief comments she offered here, but you already know

.

I'm not a huge fan in opera with only piano accompaniment, either, but Patricia McKewen Amato provided a proficient job at the keyboard, attentive to conductor Simeone Tartaglione's elegant phrasing and sensible pacing of the score. (It was easy to tell he was hearing the riches of Humperdinck's orchestration in his head; I imagine he'd do a wonderful job conducting this opera with a full complement of instrumentalists.)

The competent cast provided consistently animated characterizations and lyrical style. In vocal terms, Gretchen Windt was the standout as Hansel with her mellow, evenly produced mezzo. Subtler tonal shading from Kathryn Guthrie Demos, as Gretel, would have been welcome, but the soprano's singing had a certain vibrant power. Heather Roberts had a good romp as the Witch, musically and theatrically.

Paul Corujo revealed a warm, ample baritone as the Father. An occasional intonation droop aside, Valerie Kopinski sang effectively as the Mother. Alexandra Boule-Buckley (Sandman) and Nola Richardson (Dew Fairy) sounded pretty, although, like most of the other women in the cast, their performances (and Humperdinck's golden music) could have benefited from softer, sweeter high notes. The Children's Chorus of Maryland bounded out for the final scene and sang charmingly.

None of the singing, alas, was helped by the heavily reverberant acoustics in the church. Although performed in English, there wewre a lot of times when the language might have been Sumarian and no one would have been the wiser.

Without orchestra and without the divine Overture, the "Hansel and Gretel" could only achieve so much in terms of sonic appeal, but the unforced charm of the production -- directed with a natural touch by Victoria Crutchfield (daughter of the noted opera conductor Will Crutchfield) -- allowed the opera's internal beauty to shine through nicely.

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CHESAPEAKE CHAMBER OPERA PHOTO

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