Just when you thought all the wicked witches had retired their scary ways until next Halloween, in steps Hansel and Gretel.
And everyone knows just how much witches love Hansel and Gretel. Well, one witch, anyway.
Ladies and gentlemen — and children, too — meet the old lady who lives in the gingerbread house. She likes to have children for lunch. And dinner. And breakfast.
It’s her diet, and when Hansel and Gretel wander up and start munching on her gingerbread walls, they fit right in on the menu.
The Brothers Grimm introduced this fairy tale to the world in 1812. Opera Louisiane will re-tell the story to Baton Rouge on Saturday, Nov. 10, when it stages Englebert Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel at Christian Life Academy.
The performance is Opera Louisiane’s annual Young People’s Opera Program, which gives college students and younger professionals a chance to perform with a professional opera company.
The program also is designed for audiences of children and famlies.
But children beware. Lauren Brown plans to have no mercy on you. She plays the old lady who lives in the gingerbread house. The witch.
And, yes, she will be scary.
OK, kind of scary.
“If the kids boo me when we’re taking our bows at the end, then I know I did my job,” she said, laughing.
She’ll have a chance to gauge her boo meter in front of some pretty tough audiences as Opera Louisiane stages three school performances in the days preceding the Saturday family performance.
Last year, elementary grade audiences represented 41 schools.
“This year, we’ve added a third performance, so we’re reaching 4,000 students instead of 3,000,” said Leanne Pritchard, the company’s executive director. “We’re growing, and we’re excited about that. But we still had to turn a lot of schools away, which is sad for us.”
The company annually sends letters to area schools with information about the school performances. Schools send in their requests on a first-come, first-serve basis.
So, those schools missing out on this year’s program just might be the first schools to turn in their requests next year.
And most people attending one of the Young People’s Opera Programs will tell you that it’s fun. Yes, opera is fun.
Audience members are invited to dress casually.
They can even wear the colors of their favorite football team to the Saturday performance. And the opera is performed in English.
So, everyone will easily understand Brown’s words when she beckons Hansel and Gretel to come into her home.
Brown will be green, by the way. A nice little play on words, right? But her skin really will be covered with green make-up for the opera.
“When we did this opera before, all of the kids gasped when the witch walked out,” Clement said
Hansel and Gretel are a young brother and sister who happen upon a cannibalistic witch’s house deep in the forest. The Brothers Grimm’s story has the children’s father and stepmother leaving the children in the woods. Famine has overtaken their town, and the parents feel they can better survive without the kids.
Harsh? Well, most Grimm’s fairy tales are, even Cinderella, where the stepmother mutilates Cinderella’s stepsisters’ feet when trying to make them fit into Cinderella’s lost glass slipper.
But Humperdinck’s 1893 opera somewhat softens the story. Times are hard, and mom is worried, because she and dad don’t have enough food to feed the children. Mom sends Hansel, played by Molly Dahlberg, and Gretel, played by Ariana Wehr, to the forest to search for strawberries and prays to God for help.
“The kids in the audience won’t like me very much, because I’m always fussing at Hansel and Gretel,” Kristen Marchiafava said.
She’s from Chalmette and a doctoral student at LSU. She plays mom, and Geoffrey Kannenberg plays dad. He’s from Arlington, Texas, and earned his bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from LSU.
“I’ve had experience working with kids,” he said.
“I worked as a youth minister or mentor in church when I was in high school, and I know kids don’t hold back. They’re the most honest audience we’ll face.”
Meanwhile, there are other characters who show up along the way. LSU graduate student Maria Thomas will sport a long white beard as the sandman, putting Hansel and Gretel to sleep, while Lauren Cook, as the Dew Fairy, will awaken them.
Cook is a senior from Dallas majoring in vocal performance and music education at LSU.
But all eyes will be on Brown, the LSU doctoral student from Humeston, Iowa. Humperdinck’s opera doesn’t change her fate. Hansel and Gretel will push her into the oven.
But not before she has a chance to fill the stage with a little bit of post-Halloween fun.
This surely will win her boos in the end.