Rec Room Arts makes it a point to never be conventional—and never allow itself to be pigeonholed as this or that kind of organization, whether it’s theater company or dance troupe or something else entirely. In fact, Rec Room mostly prefers “something else entirely.”
“Our season encompassed much more than just theater,” says Matt Hune, co-founder of the space and director of Hansel and Gretel, the opera that opened there this week. “I’ve long wanted to bring an opera to the space, and I thought this was a great first opera for our audiences.”
Hansel and Gretel is Engelbert Humperdinck’s setting of the Brothers Grimm tale, with a libretto by his sister Adelheid Wette. It opened in Germany in December of 1893, conducted by Richard Strauss. Ever since, it’s been associated with the holiday season. (Houston Grand Opera mounted a chamber version during the holidays in 2006.) Stripped down and adapted, the Rec Room production is cast with five singers and takes place in an intimate 40-seat, 600-square-foot wooded performance space.
“We’re doing it in the round, with a piano,” Hune says, "and I think it’s really going to feel like the audience is in the woods with these characters. It’s almost an installation piece, and we’ve been invited into this room, telling a story around a campfire.”
Many of the shows in the current Rec Room season explore the idea of growing up and finding independence (this production follows the millennial-centric Sender). Hune feels Hansel and Gretel fits that theme, especially as the children find a way to solve their own problems when they discover they are lost in the woods and later, when they meet the witch.
“This is a fairy tale, so we also wanted to evoke as much of that concept of story sharing as we could,” says Hune. “It feels like you’re inside the fairy tale, between the music—which is some of my favorite—and the way the set incorporates sticks and trees. People are really going to leave with the appreciation that opera is fun.”
Giving people that experience is important to Hune, who’s directed for HGO’s Opera to Go series, and has worked with many of the singers in Hansel and Gretel on projects before. He realizes that opera can be challenging for some, and he’s excited to share a story that is so accessible, enhanced by Humperdinck’s rich and melodic score.
“The Evening Prayer gets me every time,” he says about the Act One finale, a duet between Hansel and Gretel. “I mean, that can get a little heavy, especially when the Dew Man comes out, but that music is so, so beautiful. And the score when the witch comes out to find the children playing with food—that’s just so fun.”
Hune says he and the cast have adapted the script a bit, too, giving opportunities for modern touches in the original libretto. It feels like a new play to him, and he believes it will connect with the audience. “And in such a small, intimate space, it’s going to really feel like an exclusive kind of event.”
Thru Dec. 23. Tickets from $15. Rec Room, 100 Jackson St. 713-344-1291. More info and tickets at recroomarts.org.