Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's Hansel Season Again, or Hansel and Regretel

Last night Dear Hubby and I ventured to Symphony Space for a performance of Hansel and Gretel presented by New York Lyric Opera Theatre. We had heavily discounted tickets for the evening, and as DH said, they were worth every penny.

NYLOT's mission, according to its web site, is " bring the beauty & passion of opera by offering low priced & free tickets and many opportunities for performers throughout the New York community." (Really? Writing out "and" is too much trouble?) It is one of the many opera companies in New York where young singers gain experience. The chorus was composed of the quadruple cast of covers who are also entitled to add their cover roles to their resumes. The whole affair seemed poorly organized, from the late start to the apparent need for a plot summary narration instead of distributing inserts. (Who was that woman who read the synopsis to the audience? She didn't introduce herself but she seemed to be running things afterward. During the poorly organized photo shoot.)

Hansel and Gretel ("and" rather than "und" because it was in English, although Ruth and Thomas Martin, creators of the English version, were not credited in the program) is not an opera that easily lends itself to a concert performance. A great deal of interaction is required. The stage setup was awkward, with the large grand piano in effect isolating Hansel and Gretel on one side while all the other characters--Mom and Dad, Witch, Dew Fairy--were on the other side.

Hansel and Gretel, of course, were the finest singers of the lot. Soprano Sarah Beckham and mezzo Melissa Block sang beautifully and convincingly portrayed their characters as well as possible in evening dress with music stands in front of them. Miss Beckham, judging from her bio-blurb, seems to have long suffered from vocal identity confusion, but Gretel is the type of role I hear in her voice. She has a light, silvery sound, and seemed to quite enjoy the role. Miss Block has a young lyric mezzo sound that is quite lovely, and she also seemed to have fun with her role. One sees a bright future as both continue to hone their crafts.

Other vocal highlights included Sharon Neff, who sang the Mother well. One would have preferred to see her closer to her children on stage, however. Catherine Webber as the Sandman and Shanna Spiro as the Dew Fairy did well with their small roles. The Witch was indisposed, so the cover, Laura Smith, went on in her place. Although vocally up to snuff, she was clearly underrehearsed. In fact, the poor level of organization was clear in the inconsistent performance-readiness level of the performers. I will say, however, most of the English lyrics came through, which is no easy feat.

I'd really like for quite a few cast members to consult stylists--or sassy gay friends--before they next venture on stage. Some gowns look lovely up close but on stage, not so much. And some of the hair styles needed work, as well.

Conductor David Rosenmeyer seemed to have a good rapport with the singers and with the 88-key orchestra, and from the audience seemed to be quite good at cuing the singers, as well as preventing over-eager singers from making early entrances. Pianist Pei-wen Chen was the unsung hero of the evening, playing the difficult score beautifully but in such a way that her solid presence was felt clearly but unobtrusively.

The entire audience was composed of family and friends of cast members, and at times this reviewer wanted to point out to them that they were not in their Long Island rumpus rooms, so speaking to each other across the auditorium was not appropriate. But always a gentleman of decorum and taste, I held my tongue. Until afterward, when walking my friend home.


Alfredel said...

Ouch....seem less than impressive. I hope you can find something better next time.

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Mr. Taminophile Author - EXACTLY.

Anonymous said...

The translation used, which was the long-standard English version published in the Schirmer edition, is not by Ruth & Thomas Martin, but by Constancr Bache.