The classic story of Hänsel & Gretel likely requires no recapping but, for those unfamiliar with the tale, it centers on the adventure of a brother and sister sent to the forest to pick berries and who let their curiosity lead them straight to trouble. That trouble comes in the form of a witch able to bewitch young children with her gingerbread cottage covered in candy.
The tenth edition of the Atelier lyrique de L’Opéra de Montréal’s annual production is being presented, once again, in collaboration with the National Theatre School of Canada. Though setting itself apart from years past, Hänsel & Gretel introduces a new collaboration and has joined forces with the National Circus School. What better tale to bring to life through contortion and acrobatics than a fairytale? Though the artistry of the circus students certainly brought a magical quality to the show, I was ultimately underwhelmed by the overall effect.
The entire cast of singers in this production, of Engelbert Humperdinck’s composition, comes to us from L’Atelier lyrique de L’OdM. The novice cast delivered the vocal goods, bringing to life and giving weight to the whimsical cast of characters. Unfortunately, their performance was not enough to carry this show to the great heights to which it aimed.
Act I begins in a beautifully designed set that demonstrates the poverty to which the children are subject. A confined box of a space, meant to be their home, certainly makes their limitations felt, however it also limits the acoustic range of their voices. It is certainly tragic to have created an obstacle for this production’s strongest asset, the vocals. Throughout all three acts, lighting seemed to be an issue, always too dark for the beautifully detailed sets to really shine. Then, in Act III, the ultimate travesty, the reveal of the all-but-complete lack of a gingerbread cottage. Depicted only by a diminutive roof and some scattered candy, the witch’s wicked web is nothing more than some peppermints and pink lights. A disappointment echoed by many patrons in the lobby afterwards.
One of the wonderful things about Hänsel and Gretel being brought to life in this format is that the audience contained more children than I have ever experienced. What a fantastic way to expose children to another faction of artistic expression and, rest assured, they were a calm and quiet addition to the crowd.
Photos by Yves Renaud