Review- Hansel and Gretel- HKU


By Peter Gordon



Hansel and Gretel is a late 19th-century German opera by Engelbert Humperdinck; its debut was in 1893 was conducted by Richard Strauss. This is not quite what is being presented by the HKU Black Box in their current production. Rather, this hour-long performance is perhaps better described as a much abridged, human-puppet hybrid work of musical theatre, “inspired by” (goes the programme) “the classic fairytale opera”. What only purists would object, for the result is both successful and delightful.


The well-known music is all there; even those that do know the opera surely know “Brüderchen,komm tanz mit mir” (“Little brother, come dance with me”), with the toe-tapping lines “Mit denHänden klapp, klapp, klapp, / Mit den Füssen trapp, trapp, trapp, / Einmal hin, einmal her, /Rundherum, das ist nicht schwer.” (“With your hands, you clap, clap, clap; with your feet you tap, tap, tap,” etc.)

The story has been slightly updated: the two waifs of the fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, here wielding more than life-size puppets with Picasso-like faces made from what appear to be scraps of cardboard and plastic tubing, wander through a city rather than a forest. The puppetry generated some laughs from the audience, but what set this performance apart was the singing. Rebekah Au Yeung’s beautiful soprano created, especially in the very intimate confines of the Black Box, a touching and heartfelt Gretel. She was matched note for note in the duets byJessica Ng in the pants role of Hansel. Soprano Christina Marcenkus sang with the dual roles of mother and witch — while not necessarily unusual is still somewhat creepy — with both gusto and musicality. Some of the production choices might have been more artistic rather than dramatically clear. Everything was sung in German with English translation.

The German, it must be said, was very nice and arguably better than any translated version might have been; nevertheless, the English surtitles were abbreviated to the point of being merely suggestive of the actual dialogue. Bits of the narrative were filled in with projected text, which was on occasion more aesthetic than legible. The story might, in consequence, have been a bit difficult to follow for those that did not already know it — not, it must be said, that the many children in the audience seemed to mind. They sat through it quietly and be all appearances rapt.Puppetry aside, the real innovation was the attempt to put on opera in a chamber format.


A pared-down cast, a single act and a small orchestra consisting of an upright piano, a couple of flutes and four strings, sufficed for a complete lyrical experience. Enjoyable, yes; charming, certainly — but rather more than either. It this was meant as a proof of concept, it succeeded in spades.






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  • Andrea Bettinelli
    01 March 2017

    Indeed an innovative and enjoyable production, off the usual settings of the theatres. Homey atmosphere with the audience placed around the elevated platform that formed the stage. Tasteful and simple staging. Well done.

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