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Reviews: (by author)
Robert Levine, illustrated by Christian Thee. Behind the Curtain: Hansel and Gretel. Workman Publishing, 1994. $17.95, ISBN 1-56305-525-2.
As the reader turns the first page, which depicts the outside of the Palace Theatre, he or she enters the lushly decorated interior, and the words: "Life is like the theater: It's not the length of the play but the performance that counts." The first section of Behind the Curtain offers a glimpse of an audience member's experience during the performance of Engelbert Humperdinck's opera "Hansel and Gretel." A program, folded in half and attached inside the book, provides background information about the opera, which was first performed in Weimar on December 23, 1893, and conducted by Richard Strauss. Humperdinck, assistant to composer Richard Wagner, created the music to accompany the text, which was adapted from the Grimm story by Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette. Each act is summarized in a separate folder (there's even an ad for dinner at Le Trough, with a quote by chef Porqui Pigue). Accompanying the text are pull-up panels which show the scene as it would be experienced by the audience. The second half is a behind-the-scenes perspective which shows how scenery is made, where it is stored, and how it is moved; lighting techniques; special effects; costuming; and makeup. The detailed illustrations, with allusions of texture (velvety red curtains, smooth striated marble, glittering candelabra, and cold, hard backstage brick walls), are delightful. Children will have fun pulling up the panels to discover the backdrop for each scene. And many readers will find the intricate behind-the-scenes activities intriguing. Regardless of a reader's experience with theater, he or she will find both the audience's perspective and the backstage view fascinating. Although all ages will enjoy the illustrations, the reading level is for ages 8 and older.
Recommended reading level: Age 8-10
Reviewed by Cynthia McDaniel