Lyric's al fresco Hansel and Gretel is a family-friendly treat | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Lyric's al fresco Hansel and Gretel is a family-friendly treat

North Park Village Nature Center provides an ideal setting.

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There’s no more perfect setting for Lyric Opera’s Hansel and Gretel in the Park than the North Park Village Nature Center, where—after two cancellations due to hideous weather—they were finally able to perform it this weekend. 

The leafy, 46-acre preserve is so ideal for this tale of two siblings lost in the woods, nobody in the small, still-masked and COVID-limited audience on Friday even bothered to complain about the 90-degree temperature.  

This abbreviated, little-kid-friendly take on the Engelbert Humperdinck opera features new music arrangements by Simon Bruckard and David Pountney’s edgy and funny English translation of the libretto. Performed by members of the Lyric Opera chorus and orchestra, it runs only one hour, with a good chunk of that time spent tracing Hansel and Gretel’s path from their home through the forest to the witch’s house and back, and resettling the audience (on logs or the ground, or standing) each time. There are three charming, minimalist sets (designed by Scott Marr, who also did the costumes) and four scenes (directed by Matthew Ozawa). Short attention spans? No problem.

It’s a talent-rich production, with a chamber ensemble of musicians at each set and double-casting for the seven-character story, all under the guidance of Lyric chorus master Michael Black. The performance I saw paired Desirée Hassler’s winning Gretel with Corinne Wallace-Crane’s irresistible Hansel; fine soprano Kimberly McCord and robust baritone Nicholas Ward were their parents. Soprano Sherry Watkins and mezzo-soprano Emma Sorenson were, respectively, the Dew Fairy on a bubble bike and the seductive Sandman; tenor Hoss Brock stole the show as the Witch, in pink and blue drag.  

Tickets were free, but only two performances remain, June 17 and 18, and they’re sold out. Maybe Lyric and its partner, the Chicago Park District, can bring this memorably site-specific production back next year, when audiences could be a little larger.  v

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