BY SANDY STAGGS
Converse Opera Theatre emerges back from Covid shutdown with a glossy, opulent Hansel and Gretel, the Petrie School of Music’s first full-scale production since the campus was re-branded as co-ed Converse University. And this opera is scrumptious from gingerbread head to foot.
Hansel and Gretel is written (by Engelbert Humperdinck, not that one) for a soprano and mezzo-soprano as the titular children of the Brothers Grimm oeuvre, and a logical choice for contemporary gender exploration and for Converse where women still – and likely will for some time – comprise the majority of enrollment in the arts.
And students (graduate and under-grads) gloriously fill most of the roles in this lavish staging sung in English and directed by Susan Lyle, Interim Director of Converse Opera Theater.
Gretel is exuberantly sung by Annabelle Martin (alternating with Kaylyn Shelton) and Hannah Cheatham embodies Hansel. Both acutely capture the wondrous nature and curiosity of these poor, spirited youths who lose their way in the forest, with ease and quality musicality. The “Brother Dance with Me” (tap-tap-tap, clap-clap-clap) is a particularly winsome aria, as is their beloved winsome duet “Evening Prayer.” Graduate student Erin O’Neil (alternating with Taryn Spires) is absolutely delightful as their mother, Gertrude.
Admittedly, some of Act 1 was not as audible and competed with the wonderful live 25-piece orchestra and the sweeping Wagnerian-like score under the tutelage of music director Keith Jones.
Baritone Jordan Scott soared as the broom-maker father Peter in a robust, jolly performance. Scott is a guest artist based in Greenville and a staff singer for First Presbyterian Church.
In addition to a stellar professional set design (Matt Jones is technical director) flanked by trees and a stunning house/gingerbread house as a centerpiece, vibrant mood lighting by Elijah George, sparkling costumes (Lindsey Morgan Bean as coordinator), and thrilling special effects, the icing on the gingerbread woman is the company’s collaboration with Ballet Spartanburg and resident dancer Carrie Preus as choreographer of the angel ballet sequence, which is #STUNNING as a never-ending parade of dancing angels descend from a scary two-story plus staircase literally from heaven to protect our sleeping heroes in the forest.
The featured role pf the Witch is sung by a brilliantly entertaining Anna Neely (coloratura soprano) who is a powerhouse with star quality and a hit with Friday’s audience.
Also starring in featured roles are Sommerset Sewell as the Sleep Fairy and the enchanting Madeline Owens as the Dawn Fairy, another audience favorite.
Hansel and Gretel continues through Sunday, January 30 at 3 pm at Twichell Auditorium at Converse University, 580 East Main Street in Spartanburg. Tickets available at the door or at converse.edu/opera.