Poverty, child neglect, hunger and threats of cannibalism are you sure this is an opera for kids?
Not to worry. Utah Opera's production of "Hansel and Gretel" is appropriate for anyone who's mature enough to sit through a relatively short night at the opera.
While the original fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm has plenty of troubling shadows to explore, Engelbert Humperdinck's 1893 opera doesn't delve far into them. And rather than go digging for scares, stage director David Gately and conductor Ari Pelto have opted to let the work stand on its own.
Humperdinck that's the German composer, not the British pop singer who borrowed his name and his sister-in-law Adelheid Wette, who wrote the libretto, softened most of the sharp edges in the Grimm tale. (For one thing, the Mother's motives in sending Hansel and Gretel into the woods are far less sinister in the opera: She needs berries for dessert, not to mention a few minutes of peace and quiet.)
Mezzo-soprano Leah Wool and soprano Anya Matanovic displayed appealing chemistry as Hansel and Gretel on opening night. They played rambunctiously and squabbled like real siblings. Both singers also delivered strong vocal performances.
Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Roderer, as the Witch, wisely resisted any temptation to overact. Most of the comedy was in the music, which Roderer delivered with just the right touch of silliness.
Of the supporting players, baritone Peter Lindskoog made the biggest impression as the easy-going Father. Mezzo-soprano Holly Sorensen was believable as the frazzled Mother. In Gately's staging, it was clear that this was a loving family despite the strains brought on by financial hardship. Yes, Father had some fun at Mother's expense by telling her a frightening story he clearly didn't believe, but the couple quickly teamed up to bring their children home.
Sopranos Kate Tombaugh, as the Sandman, and Angela Theis, as the Dew Fairy, sang well in their brief appearances.
The cast also includes nearly 50 children: two dozen singers from the Madeleine Choir School, expertly prepared by Melanie Malinka, and two dozen charming dancers from Children's Dance Theatre, who play woodland creatures and guardian angels. The quirky-looking animals and trolls, performing Stacey Orlob-Richins' choreography, added visual interest to the dream ballet sequence that closed the opera's first act.
The orchestra plays an important role in this opera, and Pelto led the Utah Symphony in a nicely balanced performance full of beautiful musical colors. The woodwinds accompanying Gretel's "Sandman" song were particularly magical.
Note to parents: The coat check in the southwest corner of the Capitol Theatre lobby offers, free of charge, booster cushions for smaller operagoers.
Catherine Reese Newton is a music critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8616. Twitter: @cathycomma
Into the woods
Utah Opera presents Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel." The opera is sung in German, with supertitles in English.
When • Reviewed Saturday, Jan. 15; repeats Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Jan. 17, 19 and 21, at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Jan. 23.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Running time • 2 hours, 20 minutes, including intermission.
Tickets • $10-$85 ($5 more on performance day) at http://www.utahopera.org, the box office or 801-355-ARTS
Learn more • Utah Opera principal coach Carol Anderson will give a 25-minute lecture in the theater beginning an hour before curtain at each performance. Artistic director Christopher McBeth will lead post-performance Q&As in the theater's mezzanine-level Founders Room.