Hansel and Gretel is known as a children’s opera. To be sure, it’s based on a fairy tale, but nothing could be further from truth.

The composer, Engelbert Humperdinck, was a Wagnerian. The score is lushly orchestrated, and the music, while it does have moments that are reminiscent of children’s songs or even folk tunes, is harmonically sophisticated. And the libretto, by Humperdinck’s sister Adelheid Wette, is clever and witty, and really does appeal to both youngsters and grown ups. Hansel and Gretel is certainly an opera that doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as a trifle.

The University of Utah’s Lyric Opera Ensemble is staging Humperdinck’s opera today and Saturday. It’s a production that captures the essence of the work and presents it in an engaging way that can captivate both young and old alike. It’s sung in English with sets and costumes by Utah Opera.

Demaree Brown as Hansel and Amber Stachitus as Gretel. (Photo: Courtesy Robert Breault)

Stage director Michael Scarola, who has been coming to the U. to direct opera for several years now, has done wonders with the staging. It’s a fairly tale setting that has some serious undertones, but done in such a manner as not to turn the story into something grim and sinister that would frighten young children.

I attended Wednesday’s dress rehearsal with the same cast that will sing today’s performance.

The leads were absolutely delightful. Demaree Brown and Amber Stachitus were charming as Hansel and Gretel, respectively. There was wonderful chemistry between them and they obviously had a blast doing these roles.

Tyler Oliphant and Hayley Bell as the children’s parents were spot on in their interpretations. Both imbued their characterizations with credibility, as did Brown and Stachitus.

Erin McOmber as the witch. (Photo: Courtesy Robert Breault)

Erin McOmber played an eerie witch. She was ominous but not without some finely tuned humor in her characterization.

Mackenzie Matthews as the Sandman and Ruth Ellis as the Dew Fairy were also wonderful in their roles.

The kids of the International Children’s Choir were a delight as the witch’s captive children. And the dancers, who were the 14 angels watching over Hansel and Gretel as they slept in the forest, were a pleasure to see.

The members of the Utah Philharmonia under Robert Baldwin played with finesse.

This is really quite a mesmerizing — bewitching? — production that is entertaining and well worth seeing by children as well as adults.

In Saturday’s cast Gretchen Windt and Shana Osterloh sing the title roles, respectively. Mackenzie Matthews is the mother and Elijah Hancock sings the father. The witch is played by Olivia Custodio, and the Sandman and Dew Fairy are sung by Alyssa Jenks and Michelle Dean, respectively.

  • What: Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble, Hansel and Gretel
  • Venue: Kingsbury Hall
  • Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. April 18-19
  • Tickets: $20 general, $10 non-U. students/U. faculty and staff, free for U. students and children under 18
  • Phone: 801-581-7100
  • Web:
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About Edward Reichel

Edward Reichel, author, writer and composer, has been covering the classical music scene in Utah since 1997. For many years he served as the primary music critic for the Deseret News. He has also written for a number of publications, including Chamber Music Magazine, OPERA Magazine, 15 Bytes, Park City Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He can be reached at Reichel Recommends is also on Twitter @ReichelArts.

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