UO Opera Ensemble’s “Hänsel und Gretel” impresses and entertains

Just about anyone could tell you the story of Hansel and Gretel, if you asked them. Boy and girl get lost in forest. An evil witch almost eats them for dinner.

But not quite.

You’ve probably seen and read this fairytale more times than you can count, but have you ever heard it sung? In German?

With their production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera “Hänsel und Gretel,” the UO Opera Ensemble did just that. Friday night, the Ensemble opened their well-performed and surprisingly hilarious interpretation of the classic tale to an excited audience at the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater.

The UO Opera Ensemble is an auditioned performance class offered through the School of Music and Dance. Led by Dr. Karen Esquivel, the ensemble experience is designed to acquaint students with the opera discipline and prepare them for potential careers in the art form.

This focus on professionalism was clear in Friday night’s performance. Every moment of the two-hour show was sung in German so confident that it was easy forget the true challenge of that task. There was not a single weak vocal link in the cast; each performer sang their role with energy and skill and exhibited remarkable stamina through long songs and scenes.

Timothy McCoy and Matthew Blumenstein were especially impressive as the Father and Witch, respectively. McCoy’s goofy “tra-la-la”’s and drunken shimmies lit up the first act, and secured “Hänsel und Gretel”’s place outside the stuffy opera stereotype. Blumenstein, too, defied stuffiness without sacrificing quality. His strong vocal tone and impeccable diction stood out even as he stamped around the stage in platform boots and sashay-ed with a broom between his legs.

When the actors weren’t singing, however, “Hänsel und Gretel” was less enthralling. The English supertitles, projected above the stage, were difficult to read while still watching the performances. Though scene changes and transitions were set to beautiful music (performed by the excellent UO Opera Orchestra), they at times were choppy and awkward. On several occasions, a cheesy projection of a clip-art witch darted along the backdrop and drew illicit chuckles from audience members.

These low-budget woes, however, faded in significance when compared to the overall quality of the production. Layers of language, energy and technical ability kept the age-old plot from ever feeling stale. “Hänsel und Gretel” was an entertaining taste of opera performance, and an outstanding exhibition of the talent on this campus.

“Hänsel und Gretel” gives its closing performance at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 26, at the Hult Center in downtown Eugene. Tickets are $7 with your student ID, and can be purchased at the door or online. For more information, see the School of Music and Dance website.

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Rachel Benner

Rachel Benner

Rachel is a Theatre writer for the Arts and Culture Desk.