How a Grimm gruesome tale gets a family-friendly makeover

The Brothers Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel is actually pretty gruesome, yet Voxalis Opera says it’s the perfect intro to the world of opera … with a bit of a tweak for families

Mar 18, 2024, updated Mar 18, 2024
Sarah Hubbard and Sabrina Wall star in the Voxalis Opera production of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel.

Sarah Hubbard and Sabrina Wall star in the Voxalis Opera production of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel.

Does this sound like a family story? Two children lost in a forest fall into the hands of a witch who plans to fatten them before eating them.

Oh yes, lovely family story that one. Mind you, fairy tales tend to be gruesome and the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel is emblematic of that.

Still, exciting new Brisbane company Voxalis Opera is touting the Engelbert Humperdinck (the German composer not the British singer) opera Hansel and Gretel as a family affair. How so? Director Lois Redman explains that some of the gruesomeness has been tamed for their upcoming production, which will be staged at the historic venue of St Andrew’s Uniting Church in Brisbane’s CBD in April.

Redman, who teaches movement and stagecraft at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University says Hansel and Gretel is the perfect show to introduce people to the world of opera.

“Whether you are an opera aficionado or a newcomer, whether you are nine or 90, this is for you,” Redman says. “Both amusing and sincere characters, angels, fairies, a gullible witch bamboozled by resourceful children, a family doing it tough. This is all encapsulated in a sublime musical journey that makes you laugh, cry and think.”

The original story is a German fairy tale that was collected by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812 in their Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Engelbert Humperdinck turned it into an opera with the libretto written by his sister, Adelheid Wette, based on the Brothers Grimm story.

The opera was first performed in Weimar in 1893 conducted by Richard Strauss. When it premiered in Hamburg in 1894 it was conducted by Gustav Mahler. Redman points out that Humperdinck had already toned it down a touch.

“He omitted a lot of the gruesomeness,” Redman says. “We are taking that a step further. It will be more hilarious and crazier than terrifying.”

Redman says much of the humour will be supplied by Opera Australia principle tenor Iain Henderson, who will be “in drag” playing the witch.

The music will be supplied by pianist Mark Connors. Along with Henderson the cast includes baritone Cameron Bodiam-Taylor as the Father, soprano Dominique Fegan as the Mother and soprano Annika Hinrichs as the enchanting Sandman and Dew Fairy.

Young mezzo soprano Sabrina Wall is Hansel and soprano Sarah Hubbard appears as Gretel.

Wall, 25, teaches at Brisbane Grammar School and is a graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. In 2022 she performed with Victorian Opera as an emerging artist. She recalls that Hansel and Gretel was the first opera she ever saw.

“I was 16 and I had never seen an opera live before,” Wall says. “It is a very accessible opera and our version is fun. I auditioned for it last year and didn’t think I would get the role. But I did, on my mum’s birthday, and she said it was the best birthday present.”

Wall says that despite the threats to the children they manage to survive and thrive.

“They trick the witch and put her magic back on her and they free all the children that had been turned into gingerbread.”

Voxalis Opera’s artistic director Camilo Lopez says it has taken two years to bring the production to fruition and that it will be one for opera buffs or newbies.

“This production will be performed in English with a very easy libretto and our artists are all wonderful on stage so there won’t be a dull moment,” Lopez says.

“We have built an incredible following for which we are forever grateful but we have also demonstrated the value of this project as an essential platform for local artists and also as a way of diversifying Brisbane’s opera scene. Hansel and Gretel will be our first ever full opera and it is definitely a dream come true.”

Voxalis Opera presents Hansel & Gretel, April 12 and 13, St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane City

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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