Chocolate and gumdrops often decorate the witch’s house to entice children in the Engelbert Humperdinck opera “Hansel and Gretel” and the McLennan Opera production staged this week also is trying to attract an audience’s attention.
It’s shorter, for one thing, a condensed version that runs around an hour. It’s in English. And an orchestral ensemble with several past and present Waco Symphony Orchestra players will support the 12-voice McLennan Opera cast.
The 1893 opera is the first MCC production for director Bronwen Forbay, who joined the college’s voice faculty last spring as assistant professor of voice and opera. The smaller scale of “Hansel and Gretel” allows singers to have “a moment to shine” while telling a story that children in the audience can follow.
Adapted from the familiar Brothers Grimm fairytale, the opera focuses on siblings Hansel (Lacey Knecht) and Gretel (Jessica Downs), ordered in the dark woods to search for berries when an accident angers their mother (Josie Guyton). After a night in which the pair are guarded by angels as they sleep, the opera’s most famous scene and song, the children encounter a gingerbread house inhabited by an old woman, who’s actually a child-eating witch (Joshua Purvis and Sami Stewart-Ely).
The two manage to escape, trapping the witch in the oven in which she intended to bake them, and are reunited with their parents (with Bobby McCarthy as the father). The Grimms’ plotline notwithstanding, the opera is kid-friendly and a few ‘90s references have been thrown in for good measure for parents’ enjoyment, Forbay said.
“The witch is scary, but crazy scary and Hansel and Gretel are adorable,” she said. And the ‘90s touches? “At least the parents will get it,” she laughed.
“Hansel and Gretel” will have performances for area schools at 1 p.m. Thursday and Friday and for the public at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at McLennan Community College’s Ball Performing Arts Center.