It’s pretty risky to mess with a fairy tale (anyone remember the Whitney Houston–and–Brandy version of Cinderella?). But when New York City Opera tinkered with Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel for a new production in 1998, the company made something good into something that pulled in full houses and critical acclaim. Granted, sitting through a full-length opera is hard enough for kids. (Heck, it’s hard for a lot of parents.) But this remake, coming back for another run on November 4, has been substantially lightened up from the gloomy 1893 original. Instead of putting onstage a demented, ugly witch who eats kids for supper inside her gingerbread house, NYCO has created a demented Upper East Side society matron who eats tenement kids for lunch in her Fifth Avenue mansion. “We didn’t want to do another traditional Hansel and Gretel because it’s been around a lot,” says conductor Steven Mosteller. “Instead, we wanted to tap into this feeling of what New York was like 150 years ago.” The unintended result is a beginner-accessible, hour-and-50-minute production that relocated the story of the lost children to Central Park and rewrote the libretto in English, complete with silly puns (including, from the witch, lines like “I try my best to serve my guests”). As in the original, Gretel outsmarts the witch by pushing her into the oven, but even that is done as a gag this time. “It’s not as threatening,” explains Mosteller. It’s sort of healing.”
11/4. 11/5, 11/11, 11/12, 11/18, 11/19 at 1:30 p.m.; 11/5, 11/12 at 5:30 p.m.; New York State Theater, Lincoln Center (212-721-6500 or nycopera.com); $16–$125.