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The Greensboro Opera and High Point University teamed up with UNC-Greensboro graduates, local musicians, HPU faculty and students, a cookie sheet full of children (Greensboro Youth Chorus), and ballet dancers to present a bare-bones production of the opera Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921). As GOC producer/stage director David Holley said before the production, "It's all about collaboration." A large audience (many children and their parents) practically filled the lovely and intimate Hayworth Fine Arts Center on the HPU campus.
In the title roles were local favorite Stephanie Foley Davis (Hansel) and Joann Martinson Davis (Gretel). These two are the dominant figures throughout the opera, and Foley Davis' strong mezzo-voiced Hansel provided a great foil to Martinson Davis' chirpy soprano Gretel. Their child-like antics added a great deal to the energy to the production.
Mezzo-soprano Gretchen Krupp was the witch, which role she hammed up to good effect. More caricature than evil persona, she (of course) was able to entrap Hansel and Gretel before being undone by the two.
Lyndsey Swann strongly sang the role of the stern but loving mother, while HPU faculty member Scott MacLeod muscularly sang the role of the broom-making father. The Sandman was sung by Jordan Winslow, the Dew Fairy by Amber Rose Romero. On several occasions, some of the singers entered from the back of the house, singing through the aisles and up onto the stage, thereby adding energy and acoustic interest.
The beautiful ballet performed by the Angels (choreographed by Michael Job) was certainly one of the highlights of the show. The Greensboro Youth Chorus was joined by a half dozen HPU students as the Gingerbread Children; this ensemble (well-prepared by Rebecca Suco) and the leads filled the stage to overflowing for the grand finale.
The production design by HPU faculty member Brad Lambert provided simple but effective settings. Projections functioned to set the various scenes: from woodland to humble cottage, from a witch flying through the air to a forest filled with gingerbread cookies/children. The opera was originally written for a large orchestra. In this production, a small ensemble of six musicians added necessary colorful touches to the piano-dominated arrangement, solidly played by Emily Russ. Conductor Garrett Saake did a great job keeping all of the musicians in synch and kept the pace moving along nicely. I must confess I have become addicted to super-titles; even though the production was sung in in English, I had trouble understanding much of the text throughout. Perhaps part of the problem was the pit orchestra, which often doubled the soloists' lines.
After a Sunday performance, the production moves to the newly opened Wellspring Theatre in Greensboro for three performances next weekend, for details of which, see the sidebar.