A beautiful spin on a classic fairy tale

Navigate Left
Navigate Right
  • The UNI Opera Ensemble was directed by Mitra Sadeghpour. Rebecca Burkardt conducted the Northern Iowa Symphony Orchestra.

  • The UNI Opera and the Northern Iowa Symphony Orchestra presented “Hansel and Gretel” on Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 28 at 2 p.m.

Navigate Left
Navigate Right

SHELBY WELSCH, Theater and Event Critic

“Hansel and Gretel” is an old nursery tale that almost everyone can recall hearing as a child, often with a stern parental warning as to why children shouldn’t talk to strangers.

However, in true fairytale fashion, the story has evolved into many different versions that have varying endings. One of the most popular versions is by the Grimm Brothers, which is, to say the least, grim.

Engelbert Humperdinck, a German 19th century composer, was urged by his sister to come up with his own take on the old Grimm fairy tale, but with a twist — it should be in the form of an opera. He decided this wasn’t such a bad idea, and the two worked hard to put together the now famous opera that has been performed hundreds of thousands of times across the world since its premiere showing in 1894.

UNI Opera teamed up with the Northern Iowa Symphony Orchestra to try their own hand at performing this old classic.

Their performance did not stray far from the original, and both the singers and musicians blew me away with their well-polished and seamless production of “Hansel and Gretel.”

In the opera’s version of the tale, the children wander off to pick some berries in hopes of feeding their famished family, leaving that famous row of breadcrumbs behind them to follow home. However, when scavenging birds eat the bread crumb path, the two are left roaming aimlessly around the dangerous woods until they run into a nasty cannibalistic witch who holds the two hostage until they are fat enough to devour.

Of course, no fairytale would allow two innocent children to get eaten up by the big mean witch, and the children end up coaxing the witch into her own oven and they are able to escape and run back home.

Graduate voice students Megan Grey and Emily Secor starred as Hansel and Gretel, and both blew me away with their sing-song tone and gorgeous timbre.

I’ve always had a fascination with soprano voices and covet how easy they make hitting high notes look.

Both voices achieved that sweetly high, childlike nature of their soprano parts, which was perfect for the parts of Hansel and Gretel.

I must also commend the Northern Iowa Symphony Orchestra pit for playing accurately and delivering a beautiful sound at perfect volumes. When the opera needed soft background noise, the orchestra pit delivered, and when the opera needed a big booming accompaniment, they delivered in that department as well.

Coming from an orchestral background, I was listening for parts that weren’t together in either pitch or tempo, and I didn’t hear a single spot in the music that fit that description.

An opera wouldn’t be an opera without good music, and this particular orchestra pit was able to deliver that wonderful folksy sound that this opera is so famous for.

The last thing worth mentioning was the whimsical set design.

While it was simple, I appreciated the hazy green forest set with giant fantastical mushrooms and cute flower arrangements, which set the mood of both lurking danger and childlike.

In the scene where the children stumble upon the witch’s gingerbread house, the house looked good enough to eat, with colorful candies littered about and life-sized gingerbread men guarding the door.

Even the creepy cage that the witch used to capture Hansel was strangely adorable, and was completely made up of lollipops and hard candies, adding to the fun and sweet nature of the set.

UNI Opera and The Northern Iowa Symphony Orchestra performed a beautiful spin on an old classic fairytale.

It was a fun show for both adults and children to enjoy, and it made my heart happy to be able to see a story that I heard a million times as a child to be brought to life and performed on stage.