Master Puppeteer Brings “Hansel and Gretel” to the Detroit Opera House



Michael H. Hodges

A crazy quilt production of the 1893 opera by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck, “Hansel and Gretel”, originally staged in 2006 by the Houston Grand Opera and then by the Atlanta Opera, opens at the Opera from Detroit on Saturday, with a fabulous, 15 foot tall witch.

This contemporary production uses a range of larger-than-life puppets and effects, all created by master puppeteer and director Basil Twist. The Detroit News caught up with the award-winning puppeteer on Monday.

So – a 15 foot tall witch?

Turn: “Yes. She is a voluptuous and voluptuous tall witch – and played by a man, Matthew DiBattista.”

How it works ?

“The singer is in the top half of the witch, starting from the waist. He works the arms, and has this huge headdress to create a ladder. His feet are strapped to a pedestal in snowboard boots. Below him. , three puppeteers make her move, and give animation to her hips. ”

Is this a difficult role to play?

“Well, you have to let go of control completely, because you depend on the puppeteers to get you around. Not all singers are willing to do that. But if you build a strong team and trust grows, it becomes an augmented being. and functional. “

Are the puppeteers in the witch’s base tiny?

“No, they’re a normal size. They’re just tight in there. Two of them are actually straddling the witch, and the other is pushing. It’s pretty amazing – they have a little camera and a video monitor so they can see where they are going.

Where did the puppeteers come from?

“Half are people who have worked with me before, mostly from New York. And the other half are from Detroit.”

Where did you get the idea for the witch?

“Some of cartoonist R. Crumb’s scary and angry women have been an inspiration.”

Are there any characters that are not enhanced by the puppet?

“Everyone has some kind of raise except Hansel and Gretel. They’re the only ones who are a little bit normal. All of the other characters have a fantasy element or sense of scale that changes them.”

Hansel and Gretel in a 2006 Houston Grand Opera production of Engelbert Humperdink's opera, coming to the Detroit Opera House on April 6.

Did you build the witch yourself? It sounds complicated.

“The Witch was a co-creation between me and the Jim Henson Company. I designed the Witch, but I needed a way to make it really work, especially because there would be a singer at it. inside. Things had to be light, strong and easy to get out, and really artist-friendly. And Henson Co. is the best in the business. It was a total pleasure working with them. ”

Where has this “Hansel and Gretel” been produced before?

“Just at the Houston Grand Opera and the Atlanta Opera in 2006-2007. It’s exciting to do it again.”

So what do you say to a puppeteer before a big performance – “Break a leg?” “

“No. We say ‘Break a string.'”

(313) 222-6021

[email protected]

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

‘Hansel and Gretel’

Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit

7:30 p.m. Sat, 7:30 p.m. Wed, 7:30 p.m. April 12, 2:30 p.m. April 14

Family Day: April 14, with other puppets and crafts

Tickets: $ 39 – $ 160

(313) 237-7464



Leave A Reply