Robert Woerle was a witch with a difference. The Volksoper version of a production from Karl Doench that premiered more than two decades ago has a man in that role, and what Woerle doesn't deliver terms of voice, he more than compensates for in terms of the creepy factor. His solo "Hur, hopp" as the witch rants about his evil plans for the kids, was a highlight Saturday.
Sebastian Holecek was strong as Peter, the children's poverty-stricken father, tossing off his signature "Ach, wir armen, armen Leute," (Oh, we poor, poor, people,") in a powerful and carefree manner that belied the difficulties of this aria. But Gertrud Ottenthal, as his wife, occasionally had to slide into some of her higher notes.
Also good: Sera Goesch as the Sandman and Claudia Goebl as the Dew Man.
In the orchestra pit, conductor Alfred Eschwe did justice to the full Germanic tapestry of the score, weaving a polyphonic musical manuscript to the onstage goings on.
A work for kids? Not only. Richard Strauss, the great German composer of the early and mid-20th century, described Haensel und Gretel as "a masterwork of the highest quality," and its creator as "a great master."
Young and old at the Volksoper on Saturday will surely agree with him.