Hansel and Gretel may be fairy tale characters, but they’ll act more like a typical brother and sister in Opéra Louisiane’s bayou-themed production of the Grimm Fairy Tale.
The company will perform “Hansel and Gretel” at 3 p.m. Nov. 15, at First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
“Hansel and Gretel will nag and tease each other like any other brother and sister until they run into trouble,” says director Dennis Jesse. “Then they’ll rely on each other to protect themselves and one another.”
So, what trouble stirs in the depths of Louisiana’s bayou country?
A dancing witch, of course, who lives in a gingerbread house, which is oh-so tempting for wandering children.
And the witch really, really loves children — for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. And maybe a couple of snacks in between. Don’t worry, though. The witch’s makeup usually causes the audience to gasp, but she’s funnier than she is scary. And no one has changed the fairy tale’s happy ending.
Englebert Humperdinck’s opera is one of three that rotates in Opéra Louisiane’s annual Young People’s Opera Program, which includes two school performances on the Thursday and Friday preceding the public performance. Thousands of area elementary school students have attended these shows.
“The kids love all the operas, but I think they love ‘Hansel and Gretel’ a little more,” Jesse says. “I think there’s a potential for them to connect to it on a different level. It’s easier to let their emotions connect, because the story is about a little boy and a little girl.”
The story of these siblings has been around since the German fairy tale was published in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm. The pair venture into a forest and fall into a trap set by a cannibalistic witch. She lives in a gingerbread house, which the kids can’t resist eating.
The witch locks Hansel in a cage and begins fattening him up. She forces Gretel to be her slave, but Gretel outwits her when the witch is getting the oven ready to bake Hansel.
Opéra Louisiane’s 90-minute performance stars Christine Amon as Hansel, a role she was playing with Opera Memphis when heard about the auditions here. Amon drove to Baton Rouge on her day off, then returned to Memphis on the same day.
“We were doing a slightly different version, but I knew the role,” she says. “I’m a mezzo-soprano, so I get a lot of pants roles, where I play young boys. I enjoy it, because I love how goofy I can be when I play these characters. I don’t have to be so serious.”
And Hansel can be as silly as any young boy.
“He’s funny, and he and Gretel act like any other brother and sister,” Amon says. “That’s part of what makes this opera fun to watch and fun to do. ‘Hansel and Gretel’ is special, because it’s a story that everyone knows. It’s filled with fantastical witches and spells, and it’s magic.”