Free or pay what you can
Free or pay what you can
"The opera 'Hansel and Gretel' is a hard act to follow—even now!" —NPR
The Eklund Opera Program brings the Brothers Grimm to the Music Theatre with Humperdinck's decadent opera "Hansel and Gretel." Indulge your imagination as you join two children venturing into the woods in search of something sweet to eat. With deliciously rich orchestration, simmering wit, and a sumptuous witch hiding out in a candy-coated cottage, this famous fairy tale is delightful at any age.
Even though we are not gathering in person, you can still enjoy this performance from the comfort of your home. Stream this performance Friday, December 11, 7:30 p.m. MST through Monday, February 15, 11 p.m. MST right here at cupresents.org.
Looking for an abridged, English version of our fall production of "Hansel and Gretel" for school-age children and teens? Watch now
This is a pay-what-you-can performance
On average people pay $25. Whether it's $5 or $100, your support will help the work of the College of Music continue to thrive. Please pay what you can before or after enjoying this special presentation.
Hansel and Gretel are supposed to be working, Gretel on stitching and Hansel on his father’s broomsticks for market. Instead, the two children shirk their duties at every turn. Gretel reveals that a neighbor has given them a jug of milk and that they will make cream to have and enjoy. Mother comes home to find the two children slacking off and barely any of their chores completed. While trying to discipline the kids, the jug gets broken to pieces. Mother angrily sends the kids out to find strawberries to make up for the lost milk. She is heartbroken that there isn’t enough food to feed her children.
At this point, father comes home drunkenly jovial with a bag full of food. He tells of how he sold his brooms at the highest prices to the people preparing for the oncoming festival. Mother and Father celebrate, but the celebration is cut short when Mother tells Father that she sent the kids to the woods to pick berries. Horrorstruck, Father reveals that those woods are the Ilsenstein woods where the Witch resides. The two parents rush out to save their children from being turned into gingerbread.
Hansel is searching for strawberries while Gretel makes a flower crown. Gretel offers the crown to Hansel, but Hansel scoffs at it (believing that boys don’t wear silly flower crowns). Gretel puts on the crown herself and Hansel calls her the “Queen of the Wood.” He offers some strawberries to Gretel and the two proceed to eat them all as they play. Realizing their mistake, the two argue over who is at fault and frantically look for more berries. In this time, the wood has gotten dark and all the surrounding sounds scare the children. Then, the Sandman shows up to sprinkle sand in the children’s eyes to make them sleep. The two sing their evening prayer and fall asleep, and angels surround them to protect them as they dream.
The Dew Fairy wakes up the children with morning dew. Once awake, they find a gingerbread house and are unable to help themselves from trying a bit of it. The Witch captures the children with her magic wand. With the children in her clutches, she intends to turn them into gingerbread. Seemingly doomed, the children outwit the Witch and toss her in an oven. Previously captured children are returned to normal and rejoice. Mother and Father find the children and celebrate being reunited with their children, who are safe and sound.
Stage director’s note
Humperdinck’s masterpiece has been a favorite of mine since childhood. The lush orchestra, the gorgeous tunes and the finely-paced dramatic arc make Hansel and Gretel a tasty treat for children and adults alike. And though this is my fourth time directing the piece, it feels like the first when viewed through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a little background on the journey we took to the forest.
Eklund Opera is lucky to have benefited from the brilliance of epidemiologists. All that we learned influenced our process. Singing projects aerosols further than speaking, so masks were needed in rehearsal, staging had to be executed with 12 feet of distance in mind, and after 30 minutes of any unmasked singing, everyone was required to break from the room. Our pianists were surrounded by plexiglass; our production staff sanitized all properties, set props and fabrics between each use; we staged the entire third act on Zoom while campus was under a temporary remote order.
The final product is unique, too. Audiences are not allowed on campus, so we decided to share our hard work through film. Opera singing for the camera is a different artform. The camera demands more subtlety than an auditorium does, and our students learned the value of adding a multitude of skills to their performance toolbox. The pit is not a safe space in the time of COVID-19, so Maestro Carthy created beautiful orchestral tracks in lieu of live music. Finally, our video director Brad Stabio filmed, edited and refined the film for a release before the holiday season.
This has been a creative project for the archives and a joy to experience myself. Thanks to the donors, students, faculty and production team that have made this work possible for our talented students. Happy holidays and enjoy Hansel and Gretel!
Music Director Notes
Below are the original notes written for the opera by Nicholas Carthy prior to the change in performance format brought on by COVID-19.
“Wagner for children.” These affectionate words have often been used to describe “Hansel and Gretel,” one of the best-loved pieces in the opera repertoire.
Wagner was, of course, a huge influence on Humperdinck, who assisted Wagner at Bayreuth, helping prepare for the first performance of “Parsifal” (even adding a few measures of his own when Wagner stormed out of the rehearsals, angry that a scene change could not be completed on time).
Although the spirit of Wagner is very much present in “Hansel and Gretel,” Humperdinck’s originality and enchanting musical language shine through very clearly.
“Hansel and Gretel,” like a lot of Humperdinck’s music, started life as a modest request: his sister Adelheid Wette asked him to write music for some folk songs she had written. This collaboration expanded into a “Singspiel” (a series of musical scenes interspersed with spoken text) and from there it soon blossomed into a full-length opera.
The story of “Hansel and Gretel” is one of several German fairy tales collected and published as “Childrens and Household Tales” by the brothers Grimm in the 1810s. Although these tales are now thought of as being almost too dark and frightening for children, the Grimm version is actually a lot less sinister than the original. Adelheid Wette continued this process, injecting much more light and optimism into the story. She replaced the (traditional) wicked stepmother—who takes the children into the woods to die—with the childrens’ real mother, an overwrought parent simply unable to cope with two boisterous children and a headache who, in a moment of rage, sends them into the woods to gather strawberries as a punishment. (The quid pro quo for this change is our willingness to believe that the poor woman has lived on the edge of the wood her whole life not knowing that an evil witch lives there!)
The first performance took place in Weimar in 1893, conducted by no less a personality than the composer Richard Strauss, who described the work as “a masterpiece of the first order.” And it is: Humperdinck intertwines both well-known and original folk songs into music of such freshness and spontaneity, creating a sound world which is perfectly in tune with the drama. The playfulness of the children, the darkness of the woods, the evil witch and the ultimate triumph of good over evil are all beautifully judged, and the music sweeps us along on one of the most exhilarating rides in the history of opera.
“Wagner for children.” If nothing else, these words can remind us that a capacity to appreciate the truly childlike is one of the most important aspects of adulthood.
Mother/Witch Study Cover
Christine Marie Li
Jennifer Melcher Galvin
Sarah Annette Opstad Demmon
Miguel A. Ortega
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