San Francisco Opera | Inside the dangerous delicacies of ‘HANSEL AND GRETEL’

Inside the dangerous delicacies of ‘HANSEL AND GRETEL’

It’s the sugar-coated bait in the wicked witch’s trap: candy, confections, and cakes, all tantalizingly prepared and decorated for each production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.

While the Witch in our production, played with cackling glee by tenor Robert Brubaker, may have a talent for baking children into gingerbread cookies, the task of whipping up all the other sweets falls to San Francisco Opera’s props department, headed by Lori Harrison.

Before every show, Harrison and her colleagues gather materials for the onstage feast. That means making a grocery run for fresh raspberries, grapes, and bread, plus pouring molten dark chocolate into a custom-made mold imported from London’s Royal Opera.

What pops out is an edible bannister that slots perfectly into the Witch’s cherry-topped house. Harrison and her crew brush the bannister with an extra coat of white chocolate, to create the illusion of aged wood.

The production also called for a candy necklace, one that can be seen in the farthest reaches of the theater. Store-bought candy necklaces made of Smarties were out of the question — they were way too small — and the fudge-striped cookies Harrison hoped to use didn’t fit in the Witch’s apron pocket. Not to mention, they might have left some awkward-looking smudges.

What could they use? Harrison and her team eventually assembled a smorgasbord of “food with holes in it:” yogurt-covered pretzels, blue-and-white gummy rings, Life Savers, and fruit jells.

Orange circus peanuts were added to the mix for a pop of color — but to string them onto the necklace was a challenge. “We had to make our own circus-peanut punch,” Harrison says.

But it would have all been for naught if the performers themselves couldn’t eat Harrison’s carefully crafted props. “If we’re going to make someone eat something on stage, they have to be able to manage it,” says Harrison. “They have to be able to sing after they eat it. So we brought them in for a tasting.”

Fittingly, the one part of the opera that involves no real food is in Act I, set in Hansel and Gretel’s family home. There, the two children gripe about not having enough to eat — and sure enough, there’s no food. A surreptitious attempt to promote Method acting? The props department declines to comment.

Meet San Francisco Opera’s original Gretel, Queena Mario