Two women in children's play clothes daubed with blood stand on either side of a large mouth with bloody teeth. On the mouth's tongue is a cake with a door and a window.
Samantha Hankey (left) and Heidi Stober in Hansel and Gretel at Lyric Opera Credit: Cory Weaver

This surrealistic production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale—seen twice before at Lyric—should probably be a Christmas show. But since Joffrey became Lyric’s roommate, we’re getting it now. Visually it’s nightmarish, claustrophobic, and monochromatic as a gray January day—but also striking: think fish-headed dream-scene maitre d’ overseeing a troop of charmingly grotesque winged chefs (sets and costumes are by John Macfarlane). The Wagner-lite orchestral score is as delicious as the gingerbread house that emerges from what’s either a giant mouth or, just possibly, a vagina dentata. (What? Misogyny in Grimm?) Revival director Eric Einhorn has the plucky duo of mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey, as Hansel, and soprano Heidi Stober, as Gretel, going big on the comically juvenile body language, while mezzo-soprano Jill Grove’s witch—not well served by her nice-lady street-clothes costume—is underplayed.

Hansel and Gretel
Through 2/5: Fri 7 PM, Sun 2 PM, Wed 2 PM; audio description Sun 1/29; Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-827-5600,, $40-$330 (student discounts available). In German, with projected English titles.

On opening night the witch was also, surprisingly, undersung—the Lyric Opera orchestra, under the baton of newly announced music director emeritus Sir Andrew Davis, overpowering her. Alfred Walker, in a Lyric debut, brings a rich bass-baritone to the father role; soprano Alexandra LoBianco is the exasperated mother who sends her starving kids into a dangerous forest. Silvery soprano Denis Vélez neatly pulls off the double role of Sandman and Dew Fairy, and the Chicago Children’s Choir, now known as Uniting Voices Chicago (regrettable, but there must be a reason), are a delight as the gingerbread children.