Coming off last year’s large scale production of Falstaff and after several years of big operatic projects, Robert Breault realized he should give the singers in his Lyric Opera Ensemble at the University of Utah a bit of a breather. “I decided we needed to take a break and not be so ambitious this year,” he told Reichel Recommends.
So this year, the group will be doing Engelbert Humperdinck’s delightful fairy tale opera Hansel and Gretel. There will be two performances in Kingsbury Hall on April 18-19.
From left: Amber Stachitus (Gretel), Olivia Custodio (Witch), Demaree Brown (Hansel); from a recent rehearsal.
Even though it’s always been described as a children’s opera, Hansel and Gretel is anything but easy to do. It’s still a fairly large undertaking. “Besides the singers, you have a children’s choir and dancers. There’s a lot of work involved in staging Hansel.”
Nor is the score a breeze to play. Humperdinck was a devoted follower of Richard Wagner, and the music is rich in late romantic harmonies. “It’s so Wagnerian and so beautifully orchestrated,” Breault said. (Incidentally, it was Richard Strauss who conducted the premiere in Weimar in 1893.)
One of the reasons Breault wanted to do Hansel was to reach out to young people. “Students under 18 can attend for free. We want them to see what real opera is like, and hopefully parents will come along.”
To make it more appealing to a younger audience, the opera will be sung in English.
Without giving too much away, Breault said the staging will be imaginative. “For example, we’re going to bring the witch in through the audience and have her hand out candy.”
Breault is co-directing the production with Michael Scarola, who has been coming to the U. for several years. “Michael is actually doing the lion’s share of the work and I’m just tweaking,” Breault said. “It’s been a great collaboration.”
The biggest challenge in Breault’s opinion is keeping the children interested in what’s going on onstage. “We have to get their attention, or they’ll just check out,” he said. But he feels this production is going to keep everyone’s interest. “We’re trying to create magic,” with the staging, lighting and other elements.
Based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Humperdinck’s opera, with a libretto by his sister Adelheid Wette, tones down the darker, more gruesome aspects of the original story and makes it more accessible and not as frightening for younger audience members. “I think we would get a PG rating,” Breault said.
From left: Gretchen Windt (Hansel) and Shana Osterloh (Gretel).
The opera will be double cast. Among the singers are baritone Tyler Oliphant and mezzo-soprano Gretchen Windt. “Tyler is working on his doctorate. Gretchen has been a Utah Opera young artist, and has sung several roles for us and elsewhere,” Breault said. Recently she sang the role of Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro for Opera Idaho.
Some of the other singers in principal roles include Shana Osterloh, Demaree Brown, Erin McOmber and Amber Stachitus.
“This is a golden age for us,” Breault said. “We have some big voices who are doctoral students right now.”
Also taking part are the International Children’s Choir and member of the Utah Philharmonia. Conducting will be Robert Baldwin.
The costumes and sets have been rented from Utah Opera, and member of the company’s artistic staff are helping out. “I’m so grateful for this collaboration with Utah Opera,” Breault said. “It means a lot to us.”
Gretchen Windt and members of the International Children's Choir; from a recent rehearsal.
- PERFORMANCE DETAILS
- What: Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble, Hansel and Gretel
- Venue: Kingsbury Hall
- Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. April 18-19
- Tickets: $20 general, $10 non-U. students/U. faculty and staff, free for U. students and children under 18
- Phone: 801-581-7100
- Web: www.kingtix.com