by Daniel Hathaway
Jonathon Field never fails to bring new insights into his opera productions, and Oberlin Opera Theater’s fall show, Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel is full of details that add to the delicious ambiguity of what many of us think of as a children’s opera. After all, it’s a fairy tale decked out with a wicked witch, a gingerbread house and guardian angels. But scratch the surface of this musical rendering of a Brothers Grimm story and disturbing topics come to light.
When we first meet Hansel (Marisa Novak) and Gretel (Alexis Aimé), they seem like normal adolescent siblings who are locked in a continuous squabble — until you notice that there’re a lot of physical blows being exchanged. That’s a stock element in all kinds of comedy from Punch and Judy shows to animated cartoons, but as the scene goes on and mother (Kayleigh Decker) and father (Daveed Buzaglo) come home, the level of physical violence begins to add up to a diagnosis: this is a dysfunctional family who are plagued by hunger, overshadowed by drunkenness and who take out their frustrations on each other with fists and brooms (their cottage industry has stockpiled plenty of weapons close at hand).
You can set that level of analysis aside if you like, but it keeps coming back. [Read more…]