Hansel und Gretel

hansell and gr

The Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Engelbert Humperdink’s (the original Humperdink, not the pop singer) Hansel und Gretel. As you’d expect the music was heavenly and the story was compelling. This version emphasized the hunger and poverty this family experienced. The first act portrays how this family has no food other than a small jug of milk, probably 2 cups full, hardly enough for a family of four. The children lament how they’re starving and long for food. During the pre-opera lecture, we were reminded  that before a neighbor gave Hansel and Gretel‘s family the milk, the probably hadn’t eaten breakfast or dinner the night before. Yet when they get rambunctious and are cavorting around the kitchen they break the milk jug losing the only food the family has.

The mother returns and is furious when she learns that the milk’s gone. She sends Hansel and Gretel into the forest to get a large bowl full of berries. After they leave, their father returns and fortunately, he’s sold all his goods, the brooms he makes, and has bought a large bag of food. Their problems are over. When father learns that the children are off in the woods, he’s alarmed. The forest is dangerous. A terrible witch who preys on children lives there. What was mother thinking?

hansel gret

The second act is set in the forest, done with a minimal naturalistic style, with dark, foreboding visuals. Again the music is moving and the visuals compel. The highlight of the act was when the children say their prayers singing to the 14 angels who protect them.

Opera newcomers would appreciate this performance as the story is so familiar and the music is beautifully sung. There are some differences from the cozier versions of the story we usually hear. The mother is not a stepmother. The scenes with the bread crumbs aren’t here and we don’t see a colorful candy house. So the artistry of the sets isn’t what you’d expect, but the visuals do express the theme of hunger and hard times well.

All in all, this production of Hansel und Gretel pulls us in from start to finish.

Sound Cloud: Dr. Peter Kreeft

Here’s a recording of Dr Peter Kreeft talking to Act One screenwriters on Why What They Do Matters and Why it Matters to God.

Showboat

“Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly . . . .” These Showboat lyrics still linger in my head over a week after seeing the musical. If you’re any where near the Lyric Opera,go see Showboat. Period. End of story. It’s fabulous.

The ads on PBS brought me in. I loved Aida, so why not try Showboat. I had no idea what the story was beyond something about a boat that went up and down the Mississippi with performers on it. I’d heard “Old Man River” plenty of times, but only casually and out of context. Even though I had to go the night before I was leaving for China, I couldn’t pass up this last chance for some culture.

The story was a lot meatier than I expected. Based on Edna Ferber‘s novel about a biracial woman, who passes, married to a white man Showboat offers the audience complexity along with great singing and dancing. I admit I expected fluff, but the story goes down the dark alleys inherent in marrying a guy who doesn’t amount to much. While Ms. Ferber was concerned that too much sugar might be added to her novel, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II transformed the genre, which up till then was light and frivolous. The original New York Times review asserts that

The adaptation of the novel has been intelligently made, and such liberties as the demands of musical comedy necessitate do not twist the tale nor distort its values.

Some critics mark Showboat as a turning point in American musicals.

I recommend going to the pre-performance lecture an hour before the curtain when you’ll learn about the flooding of the Mississippi at the time, Ms. Ferber’s influences, and background information on the creation of the show.

I was disappointed that I had to leave the show early to catch the 10:35 train home. !@#@!$ Metro for not having an 11:35 train. I toyed with the idea of staying for the whole show, but I just couldn’t get home at 1:15 that night. So I am now scouring Jinan for a DVD of the film. No luck so far. Rats!

Related Articles

From the Writer’s almanac

Seeing as I watched Bonnie and Clyde last week this seemed apt:

On this day in 1934, (May 23) Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s two-year crime spree ended when they were ambushed and shot by police in Gibsland, Louisiana. They met in 1930, when Bonnie was 20 and Clyde was 21, and fell in love almost instantly. Bonnie Parker had been a good student who won prizes for spelling and writing, but she dropped out at 15 and married a classmate. She and her young husband were estranged, mostly because he had spent the few years since their marriage in and out of jail. Clyde Barrow had committed a few robberies and stolen some cars, and was arrested soon after they met. He entered prison a wayward schoolboy and emerged two years later a hardened criminal, vowing to take revenge on the Texas correctional system.

The five members of the Barrow gang were nearly caught at a rented apartment in Joplin, Missouri, in 1933, but escaped after killing two lawmen who had come to arrest them. They left behind most of their possessions, though, including a roll of film and one of Bonnie Parker’s poems, “Suicide Sal.” The photos showed the Barrow gang clowning around and posing with their weapons, and it was the publication of the photographs and poem over the new national newswire that made them celebrities. They were really just small-time crooks, not career bank robbers, mostly robbing stores, restaurants, and gas stations; their take from any given job was never more than $1,500. But it was the Depression, and people felt oppressed by the banks, and it only took a couple of small-town bank robberies to give them a “Robin Hood” reputation among the down-and-out public. But after 13 murders—nine of them police officers—even the public turned on them.

The posse took no chances that they would pull off another daring and bloody escape, and began firing — about 130 rounds, total — as soon as they ambushed the outlaws’ car on a Louisiana back road. Crowds gathered immediately, snipping locks of hair and bits of blood-soaked clothes to sell as grisly souvenirs.

From Bonnie Parker’s most famous poem, “The Trail’s End”:
Some day they’ll go down together,
they’ll bury them side by side.
To few it’ll be grief,
to the law a relief
but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.