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Act II opens with Hansel and Gretel lost, tired, and hungry. A brief cello solo beautifully played by principal Desmond Hoebig tried to comfort them, but their fear, as exemplified by a lovely violin melody from acting concertmaster Ellen dePasquale, was too strong to allow them peace. The cuckoo and its echo (The Cleveland Orchestra's Children's Chorus offstage) was suitably eerie, but the day was saved by the Sandman. Ms Merad's large voice was sweetly encouraging as the children fell asleep, and their sweet dreams were accompanied by ravishing cascades of notes from the harps.

There were no angels visible as Gretel comforted herself and her brother with the famous Evening Prayer. It was easy to imagine all fourteen of them being there, however, as the music vividly depicted them encircling the children with warmth and love. Their stately dance was rather on the brisk side, but majestic as well. This small -- but gorgeous -- segment of the performance that ended the first half was well worth the price of admission all by itself.

The tempo of the opera changed entirely in the final act. The Dew Fairy (in the person of Ms Merad) gently awakened the sleeping children. Realizing they were still hungry, they set off through the woods, discovering the Gingerbread House. As soon as Hansel started to nibble on a shingle or two, the wicked witch appeared to protect her/his property. Mr Vogel first fiendishly captured the foolish Hansel, then tried to entice Gretel into testing the oven. Protesting her ignorance of such things (no dummy, she!) the Witch finally agreed to show the girl how it was done. And there she went -- the witch right into the oven! Oh, it was marvelous!

And then, The Children's Chorus (prepared by director Ann Usher) came on stage in their brightly-colored shirts, to stand behind the orchestra, while the prayer was reprised, beginning with the violas and moving through the various string sections. The music, as well as the singers, all became much happier once the spell was broken, allowing the gingerbread cookie boys and girls to become real boys and girls once again.

The music swelled, and everyone repeated the words heard throughout the opera: 'When our grief's too great to bear, God will lend his loving care.' A worthy thought not just for this time of year, but always.

Sung in German, the excellent surtitles were by Digital Tech Services of Portsmouth, Virginia, and used the wonderful, hip English translation of Cori Ellison. They were perfectly synchronized, and on occasion, displayed helpful staging directions as well, for those times of purely orchestral music. For instance at the beginning of Act III, during a lush, prolonged prelude, the caption read: 'The forest is still veiled in mist which now slowly clears.' Very helpful.

There were hugs and kisses all around between Mr Welser-Möst, the singers, and the principal string players. Bravos and cheers echoed through the concert hall.

Copyright © 4 December 2004 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


There are two more performances scheduled at Severance Hall, Friday and Saturday, 3 and 4 December 2004, both at 8pm. After this weekend, the emphasis changes to holiday concerts for the remainder of the month. For more information about these or other upcoming concerts, call +1 (216) 231 1111, or visit the Cleveland Orchestra's website.

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