There's no way not to love Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. It's a perfect little Wagner opera with a fairytale instead of a nationalistic vision at its core. And there's also no way not to love LA Opera's revival of its 2006 production. Each member of the cast inhabited their character with obvious relish and great broad acting skills, the broadest of which was The Witch, Susan Graham, who had all the fun every mezzo-soprano witch, who can sing the role and disguise herself – when necessary – to look the part, deserves.

Susan Graham (Witch) © Cory Weaver
Susan Graham (Witch)
© Cory Weaver

Sasha Cooke and Liv Redpath as the two kids were cute as buttons and once they got off the steeply raked porch outside their home you could hear just how brilliantly each of them sang. Director and designer Doug Fitch gave them a lot of business to do on a stage with at least 14 animals, little mounds of grass, and giant glowing, growing mushrooms; they responded with more than enough voice and charisma to burn. The only mishap was fattening Hansel by attaching his head to a giant inflatable eggplant which not only didn't completely unfold but also put Cooke again too far back on stage. (Don't worry. At the end he made a complete recovery.) 

Sasha Cooke (Hansel) © Cory Weaver
Sasha Cooke (Hansel)
© Cory Weaver

Aside from a multi-media appearance at the beginning which blew up her scowling face and sacred a little kid in the audience, Melody Moore's Mother turned out to be not only a pretty decent sort but also to have a particularly warm rich, warm soprano. Craig Colclough's Father was a standout, with his rustic energy and wonderfully clear diction. Both Taylor Raven's Sandman and Sarah Vautuor's Dew Fairy dispensed magical dust from 10-foot perches; Fitch even employed a body double to perform a gymnastic tumbling feat to startling effect.

The scenery was loud and lavish, and there were lots and lots of furries on the prowl ranging from a Big Bird clone to an adorable little scampering creature somewhere between a dog and a hedgehog. A less adorable green and orange humanoid creature bore a resemblance to a fugitive from The Island of Dr Moreau. A suite of furniture including broom stand danced with the children in the opening scene.

Sasha Cooke (Hansel) and Liv Redpath (Gretel) © Karen Almond
Sasha Cooke (Hansel) and Liv Redpath (Gretel)
© Karen Almond

Sporting large, mobile and occasionally illuminated eyes, the furries participated throughout the whole opera, and even served as the fourteen angels in a sort of idealized department story front window nativity scene. And it must be mentioned that the stage crew, who did yeoman work moving the sections of the set around, giant mushrooms, etc. were all dressed in what I took to be abominable snowman costumes. 

Sasha Cooke (Hansel) and Liv Redpath (Gretel) © Karen Almond
Sasha Cooke (Hansel) and Liv Redpath (Gretel)
© Karen Almond

The LA Opera Orchestra starred on its own. It sounded huge and rich, ready to tackle Wagner's Ring after intermission if necessary. Concertmaster Robert Cani nailed every one of his big solos, and the strings overall were sumptuous. James Conlon accommodated the opera's sentimental charms while smoothly working the story's occasional darker threads into the general flow. Throughout all the adventures on stage both as an actual opera and as a holiday entertainment, Conlon kept the proceedings sober, focused on getting drop dead gorgeous sounds from the orchestra, and instilling and inspiring the cast that he will always have their back. 

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