Photos by: BOB SHOMLER

SILICON VALLEY --  Inside the California Theatre,  the stage represents ILSESTEIN,  the  dark German forest where interrupting the silence one hears the  zestful cuckoos of  the cuckoo birds. It is a magic place. At night, one could see the Sand Man (JAMIE WOODHULL) sprinkling his golden sand on people's eyes, to puts them to sleep soundly.  And when  people are sleep, fourteen Angels, wearing wreaths on their heads and holding  lighted globes in their hands, descend from heaven and stand around them to protect them. From whom? From the evil Nibble witch, ( KERRIANN OTAÑO) who lives there in a ginger house  decorated with candies. It is a yummy  house but its sole purpose is evil. It is to entice young children to taste its different flavors of sweets, and when they are munching them, catch them and imprison  them in a tall cage with mint candy bars, where after they are fattened they will be baked in a black-metal oven, shaped like a man's head with orange eyes, a lumpy  nose  and a fiery mouth as door. Inside her oven, the baked children turn into ginger human shaped bread figures. that she places on a row and use the row as a fence. Those who survive  sleeping in the forest, will be awaken the next day,  by the DEW  FAIRY (AMY GOYMERAC).

 STEPHANIE SANCHEZ  as Hansel and KERRIANN OTAÑO as the witch

Traditionally, this opera is presented in Europe during the holidays to introduce opera to children and one reason is that its libretto, written by ADELHEID WETTE was written as a märchenspiel (Marching game for children) and is based on the brothers WILHELM and JACOB  Grimm's  fairy tale  HANSEL and GRETEL which was  published in Germany  in l812. As an opera, "HANSEL and GRETEL, premiered on December 23, 1893 at the HOFTHEATRE in Weimar and was conducted by RICHARD STRAUSS.

In spite that it is based on a fairy tale story, the opera should not be considered a fairy tale. It has a witty libretto, and some arias are structurally based in the rhythms of the  German folk songs, but musically, the work is operatic. We should remember that the reason why ENGLEBERT HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921) wrote this opera, was to try to establish himself as an opera composer.  

Born in on September 1, l854 in Siegburg (Rhineland), HUMPERDINCK was the son of a School Headmaster.  As a boy, he played the piano at the age of 5 and started composing at the age of 14. His parents wanted him to study architecture, but at the age of 18, he entered the Cologne  Conservatory of Music, where he studied music composition, piano an organ. Upon graduation, he began composing, music and  óperas  but his work was overshadowed by the works of other composers.

After being  overshadowed by RICHARD WAGNER, refusing  to be an "imitator" like other composers, or write operas in the Verisimo Genre like the Italians, HUMPERDINCK  selected his own Genre: a fairy tale. And to make his "opera" appealing to young children, he used German folk songs as models  for some of  his arias and a story with two children, as his principal characters. And it was in this field, that HUMPERDINCK  was finally accepted as an opera composer

Like the Brothers Grimm's book, the opera  relates the story of  two children: the son and daughter of a broom maker and his wife who are so poor  that seldom have enough money to feed them.  In the opera their problem is explained immediately, in the first of the three acts,. inside their cottage, as the two hungry children, sing  (in English) arias mentioning food, and at the end, trying to appease their hunger  pangs continue singing and start dancing .

Opera San José's  (OSJ)  presentation of the work is  magical. Its mere sets, are able to carry the audience back to the "once upon a time world of fairies."  As we looked around, the children were giggling, The adults were smiling, everybody in the auditorium looked happy.  During the intermission, I asked an Opera Patron, how she  felt, about the production,  and with the same spark in her eyes as the children, she told me that the performance had managed to bring her back to her childhood.

And the work ran seamlessly on that night. Under the direction of  Conductor  JOSEPH MARCHESO,  the music was played neither too soft or too loud, allowing  the voices of  all the singers to be heard over the orchestra. Under the stage direction of LAYNA CHIANAKAS, all singers made us believe in their characters.

Designed by LARRY HANCOCK, the sets: the forest, the children's cottage, the witch's  ginger bread house, her jail, and her oven outside the house, conveyed perfectly the magic in the fairy tale, with each set resembling a printed drawing on one of its pages

And as we looked at the humble interior of the children's house, the production started and the set came alive  when soprano  ELENA GALVÁN  as Gretel started  singing,  clapping her hands and tapping her feet on the floor,  and Mezzo Soprano TALIN NALBANDIAN tried  to imitate what she is doing  in her role of  her clumsy dancer brother HANSEL.  The voice of  HANSEL  Played that night by Mezzo-Soprano NALBANDIAN, replacing  STEPHANIE SANCHEZ  that was ill, was full and pleasant, and she played her role as a young boy trying to act tough to impress his sister, believable.  On her part soprano Gretel  (GALVÁN)  handled all her high notes clearly. her performance was seamless.

The best vocalization on that night, however,  was given by EUGENE BRANCOVEANU, who played the role of their father. The baritone, vocalized his words clearly and interpreted his arias them in a beautiful timbre of voice.  As mother KERRIANN OTAÑO also gave a believable  performance as both the mother, and as the witch even riding a bicycle,  for lack of a broom that could fly.

Elena Galvàn as Gretel and Stephony Sanchez as Hansel protected by an Angel

And contributed to the ambiance of the story were the costumes of the parents, children and different characters including the Sandman, angels and witch ( created by ELIZABETH POINDEXTER. Perhaps the only things that needed to be changed on that night was the  lighting, that in some scenes (the descending of the angels) needed to be brighter

And if not in the usual "and they live happily ever after ending" the  story ends on a high note and with "poetic justice"  (the good rewarded and the evil punished)  And to verbalize the premise in the story, it ends as the father tells all the children: When past bearing is our grief, then God, the  Lord will send relief.

THERE WILL BE PERFORMANCES of HANSEL AND GRETEL on Sunday November 24, 2019 at 3:00 PM Tuesday November 26, 2019 at 8:00 PM and Sunday December 1, 2019 at 3:00 PM at the California Theatre 345 South 1st Street. Tickets are available by calling (408) 437-4450  by ordering the online at www.operasj.org/ or at Opera San Jose Box Office located at 2149 Paragon Drive in San José.