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'Hansel and Gretel': Opera for everyone

4:34:28 PM CDT - Thursday, November 18, 2004

By Shannon Littlejohn

Even young children can love an opera that features an evil witch in a sweet cottage with an oven hungry for child a la mode. So while you're digesting your own repast over Thanksgiving weekend, consider bringing the whole family out to the Opera Kansas and WSU opera theater revival of their popular holiday treat "Hansel and Gretel,"on campus the last weekend of November.

"With its delightful melodies and magical plot, 'Hansel and Gretel' is the ideal introduction to opera for young people," said Ed Ehinger, the new artistic director of Opera Kansas.

"It's darling, very charming," said Marie King, director of WSU opera theater. "(Engelbert) Humperdinck, the composer, wrote it for his niece and nephew, and his sister wrote the libretto so it was a family effort. It was one of the first pieces that I was aware of when I was a young child."

Set in Germany and based on the classic Grimm brothers tale, "Hansel and Gretel" tells the story of two children sent into the forest to gather berries for their poor family to eat. They become lost and are forced to spend the night in the deep woods where they encounter an evil witch who bakes children into gingerbread. They eventually triumph over the witch, save other children from her spell and are happily reunited with their parents.

This production will be performed in English, King said, by a cast of young professional singers, most of whom are alumni of and current students from the WSU opera program. "Hansel and Gretel" will also feature 14 young people from the Wichita Community Children's Chorus who will perform as angels and gingerbread children.

Wichita-based mezzo-soprano Virginia Revering is featured as the witch. The role of Hansel is being played by Carrie Cooley, WSU senior, and that of Gretel by WSU graduate student Donna Maria Pimental. Soprano Mary Ellen Swords, WSU alumna, plays the mother, baritone Joshua Lindholm, senior, appears as the father, and soprano Lauren Brown, senior, sings the combined roles of the Sandman and the Dew Fairy. Set design is by J. Branson and lighting design is by Sean Roberson, both alumni of WSU. Costume design is by Charla Sanderson.

Wesley DeSpain, interim director of orchestras at WSU, will conduct a 24-piece orchestra in a reduction supplied from the library of the Welsh National Opera by Pocket Publications of Great Britain. Stage direction is by Opera Kansas' Ehinger.

The production of "Hansel and Gretel" was made possible by gifts in memory of Forrest C. and Frances H. Lattner and of Willard Garvey, as well as the following organizations: Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation; Boeing Foundation; Sam and Rie Bloomfield Foundation; Wesley Pathology Consultants, P.A., Frank and Betty Hedrick Foundation; McEwen Deck Foundation; and Dr. and Mrs. Dwight K. Oxley. The current performances are made possible in part by the Kansas Arts Commission, a state agency.

Please note that Opera Kansas and WSU opera theater are presenting "Hansel and Gretel" and not "Amahl and the Night Visitors" as originally announced. "Hansel and Gretel" performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28, in Miller Concert Hall. Tickets are $8 with discounts available. For more information, call the College of Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233.



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