Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel, based on the classic Grimm fairytale, comes alive on stage at the Chapman Cultural Center Friday – Sunday, Nov. 16 – 18. Presented by Converse Opera Theatre under the music direction of Keith Jones and stage direction of guest artist Michael Johnson, performances are at 7:30 PM on Friday and Saturday, and 3:00 PM on Sunday. Admission is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $5 for students with ID and children. Tickets may be reserved by calling (864) 542-2787.
“At moments it is dark and frightening and at other moments simply delightful…”
The story of Hansel and Gretel is told through the music of Engelbert Humperdinck, a composer who worked with Richard Wagner in the 19th century. The opera’s libretto was put together by the composer’s sister and is somewhat less frightening than the original fairy tale. Director Michael Johnson, who has performed the role of the father in the opera as well as directed it twice before, explains, “We have chosen to present it in a traditional way, with the emphasis on fun and magic. The sets and costumes are not dissimilar from what one might have imagined at the opera’s premiere in 1893. This choice was made intentionally to allow everyone—children, adults and those of us who fall somewhere in-between—to enjoy this timeless musical Fairy Tale.”
The opera is double-cast to enable more Converse students the opportunity to gain performance experience, with both undergraduate and graduate vocal students singing lead roles. The roles of the Gingerbread Children are sung by members of the Converse Chorale, and the Guardian Angels are dancers from the Arts Academy of the Carolinas.
Guest director Michael Johnson has directed or performed in more than 70 operas, operettas and works of musical theatre for a number of schools and professional companies in the U.S. and internationally. He served as Director of Opera at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, the University of Memphis, and Baylor University. Johnson was first introduced to Converse in 1973 when participating in his first opera productions at Brevard Music Center’s summer program with Converse professor John McCrae. He credits McCrae with inspiring his career in stage direction, noting, “Without John Richards McCrae I have no idea what I would be doing or where I would be doing it.” Johnson’s wife, Teri, studied voice at Converse with Dr. Beverly Hay. His guest artist appearance honors both McCrae and Hay, who will retire at the end of this year.
“This production of Hansel and Gretel lands somewhere in the space between a scary Grimm Fairytale and a Joyful Adventure. At moments it is dark and frightening and at other moments simply delightful,” says Richard Higgs, Dean of the School of the Arts. “Our cast and orchestra as well as all who have worked late into the night for the past month give me a real understanding of exactly how much I appreciate and love these people.”
The production is sponsored in part by the estate of Martha Claire Harper ’49, who received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Converse College.
THE STORY OF HANSEL AND GRETEL
A poor broom-maker and his wife live on the edge of a dense forest that has always been rumored to be haunted. They live far from their nearest neighbor with Hansel and Gretel, the father’s children who he had when he married his present wife. Father has gone into town selling the brooms that his son Hansel helps make, while Mother is running other errands that are not made clear. The children are left alone in the house to do their chores. The work is tiresome and after a while the children begin playing. Mother returns and catches them playing. She is extremely angry and an incident occurs that leaves them without anything for supper so they are sent into the forest to pick strawberries. The children lose track of time as night falls in the forest; they remember to say their bedtime prayer just before they fall asleep. We see that they are being “watched over” during the night and know they are safe. Morning comes and upon awakening they discover a most beautiful house built of tasty treats emanating appetizing smells. They are just beginning to enjoy a taste when they encounter the home’s occupant, a wicked witch who just happens to like to trap children for her supper! But the Witch is not prepared for the resourcefulness of the children, and the tables will be turned in the most elegant manner!