Sugary spectacle: CSU Opera presents ‘Hansel and Gretel’

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Story by Spencer Gillard and Lauren Scott

“Truly, it’s a masterpiece of the highest quality… all of it original, new and so authentically German.”

The composer Richard Strauss made that statement after conducting the premier of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, and now more than 120 years later, his words remain true.

The Charles and Reta Ralph Opera Center at Colorado State University announces the opening of its fall opera Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck, directed by Tiffany Blake, with the CSU Sinfonia Orchestra, conducted by Mariusz Smolij and Adam Torres.

The inspiration

Based on the classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, the opera tells the tale of two children who happen upon a mysterious gingerbread house in the woods and are captured by a witch who wants to eat them. Written early in the composer’s life, Humperdinck’s sister asked if he would set parts of a children’s play about Hansel and Gretel to music, and eventually the full opera came to be. The composer succeeded in telling the simple fairy tale in a musical treatment of remarkable sophistication, with captivating melodies and folk-like appeal. A beautiful version of the well-known story, this production is a wonderful first-time opera experience, especially for families with little ones.

For Blake, the production is not just about the music, but also emphasizes the “visual spectacle.”

“I’m trying to have fun with it as much as possible and create something enchanting,” he said.

“Most of our audience has a strong familiarity with the story and its relatable characters,” Blake added. This familiarity allowed the director to shift the focus from simply telling the story to embellishing it into a world she describes as “fanciful and whimsical.”

“[Hansel and Gretel] is different from what you think opera is,” said sophomore Emma Genell, who plays Hansel. “Dr. Blake creates a clear vision [of a] crazy, magical world.”

‘Light and free’

“The tone and style of Humperdinck’s music is light and free, which enhanced and focused the direction of the production,” Blake said.

And even though the story involves runaway children and an evil witch, that isn’t what the production team wanted to accentuate.

“It’s supposed to be light-hearted, not serious or scary,” said Blake.

From an actual edible gingerbread house to woodland creatures dressed in full Victorian garb that could only belong at a “fancy party,” CSU’s take on Hansel and Gretel is as much about seeing as it is hearing.

“[The costumes are] extremely loud and outlandish,” said costume designer Maile Speetjens, adding that they’re “alluring with bright, aggressive colors,” with the Witch getting her own special “splash of craziness.”

“We did go sort of ‘candy-crazy’ with the whole design,” Blake concedes with a laugh.

Hansel and Gretel will be showing on Nov. 6, 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 8, at 2 p.m. in Griffin Concert Hall; tickets are available at