Once upon a Time* at War Memorial
Pretty Hansel & Gretel came to town
As The Opera fall season’s final
To cheer and melt hearts holiday-bound.

Co-prod with Royal Opera London
Antony McDonald was the show’s name
Intending to be more than just bon-bon
Scared kids and adults were part of the game.

Unlike German used in Covent Garden
Lucky we got David Pountney’s English
So we all, big and small, could be ardent
And lost ourselves in the fairy-tale bliss.

Taking cue from Brothers Grimm’s storybook
With Psycho’s Bates Motel as gingerbread
Admirably achieved whimsical look
Akin to pop-up book kids love to read.

Neill Brinkworth radiantly lit the stage
Brilliantly illuminating the set
Loud cheers and laughs from children of all age
When cherry on top the house glowed bright red!

Pantomime scene was irresistible
Obvious nod to Sondheim’s Into the Woods
Where Grimm’s characters fleeting and nimble
All wishing to keep guard of the young broods.

The choice of tenor witch got me worried
Especially when he came out in drag
Bags of evil and menace (s)he carried
Spine-chilling creepy, not just laughing gag.

The set was fine, singing even better
Turning into the season’s highlight
The ensemble worked closely together
Like well-oiled clock, even on first night.

Sasha Cooke’s Hansel impishly charming
He was young, and he was brazenly proud
Her mezzo voice was rounded and booming
Even when the orchestra truly loud.

As her sister, Heidi Stober lovely
She took full control when the goings got rough
Sounding bright, and conveying youth fully
She too, not afraid to get pretty tough.

From Elektra’s siblings to now parents
Michaela Martens put on a brave face
While Alfred Walker dignified presence
Combined, they sang with both power and grace.

Robert Brubaker’s Witch wasn’t campy
He didn’t try to use funny voices
If anything, he was downright scary
Perished in chocolate bowl, end of vices.

Ashley Dixon and Natalie Image
Rounded the cast as spirits in forest
And Chiharu Shibata on that stage
Fleetingly danced her Hitodama best.

Christopher Franklin very energetic
He could be overpowering at times
The children chorus truly angelic
Expressing happiness, their major primes.

That night ended with special occasion
The “Spirit of the Opera Award”
To Louise Gund it was proudly given
As dedicated member of the Board.

Once upon a time at War Memorial
Heart aglow, joy and love for humankind
Bring your family: This show is special!
Such perfect opera is hard to find!

* “Once upon a Time” = Friday, November 15, 2019, the opening night of Hansel & Gretel!

Photos: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera