Philanthropist supports 17 arts organizations

Philanthropist James M. Collier and Brava! Opera Theater are presenting San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Grand Opera Concert on Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Mountain Avenue Theatre in Ashland as part of the James M. Collier Young Artist Program.

Collier supports 17 performing arts organizations, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Rogue Valley Symphony, the Britt Festival, Chamber Music Concerts, the Repertory Singers and the Camelot Theatre. We met at his gracious home overlooking the Rogue Valley.

JC: The first Oregon Shakespeare Festival production that I saw was in 1970. I fell in love with the live performance, and everything started to fall into place. It’s wonderful to have all of these arts associations here in the Valley, and the talent — the teachers, the actors and actresses, all of the other performers, and all of the coaches, the support people, and the lighting technicians, sound technicians and costumers, all the phases of live performance. I’m very happy to be able to be involved in supporting the whole panorama of these kinds of activities for live performance around here.

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‘Hansel & Gretel’ tale gets operatic treatment

Artistic Director Willene Gunn is directing Brava! Opera Theater’s next production: “Hansel and Gretel.” Composed by Engelbert Humperdinck in 1893, the opera is softer and more fanciful than the well-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.

It’s the story of two poor starving children who are lost in the woods and are captured by a wicked witch. They cleverly outsmart her and escape. In the opera, the children are playful, the woods are supernatural; and delightful gingerbread children are magically brought to life at the end. “Hansel and Gretel” will be accompanied by an 18-piece orchestra conducted by Martin Majkut. A chorus of 10 children will also perform.

Gunn first came to Ashland in 1959, as a singer, to perform with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the Elizabethan Theatre. She went on to have an extensive career in opera, and was the director of the opera program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for 30 years. We visited at the Downtowne Coffee House in Talent.

EH: Tell me about the opera “Hansel and Gretel.”

WG: It’s Humperdinck’s one big popular work. The music is very melodious and fun, and yet it fits the drama exactly right. I’ve directed it often, and sung the Witch a great many times. The Witch, for some reason, has a great fondness for gingerbread. And she has to catch these kids, bake them into cookies, and eat them. This time, I’ve staged it with children because there are a lot of poor children in this country, and everybody is hungry in the show.

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