‘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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