Boulder Opera presents “Hansel & Gretel” on Family Series

Holiday favorite will be abridged for younger audiences and sung in English

By Izzy Fincher Dec. 6 at 12 noon

Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel has been a beloved Christmas-time opera for more than a century. Based on the Brothers Grimm classic fairytale, the opera tells an uplifting story of overcoming hardships and the importance of family.

This December, Boulder Opera will present an abridged, hour-long production of Hansel and Gretel, sung in English. The singers will be accompanied by pianist Aric Vihmeister and cellist Mathieu D’Ordine.

Boulder Opera’s 2014 production of Hansel & Gretel, with Lindsay French (Gretel), Corinne Denny (the Witch) and Genevieve Baglio (Hansel).

The performance will be followed by a Q&A session, hosted by director Brandon Tyler Padgett. As a part of their Family Series, Boulder Opera aims to make this interactive, shorter performance more accessible and engaging for younger audiences.

Boulder Opera executive director Dianela Acosta also plays the Witch in the opera

“We want to give young children access to classical music as a stepping stone to engage with this craft,” says Padgett, who will also be playing the role of Hansel and Gretel’s father.

“We want to develop the next generation of opera lovers,” Dianela Acosta, the executive artistic director of Boulder Opera, says. “The best way to do this is to start at an early age, so [attending operas] becomes a habit.”

To be more family-friendly, the production will highlight the light-hearted, magical aspects of Humperdinck’s fairytale opera, while deemphasizing the darker, more mature themes of poverty and domestic abuse. 

“Our focus is on the overarching positive themes within the story—the familial bond of Hansel and Gretel and the natural elements in the world that have benevolent or caring features and want good people to prosper,” Padgett says. “We want to (bring out) the aspects of hope and good over evil.”

Director Brandon Tyler Padgett also plays the role of the Father

Padgett’s goals for Boulder Opera’s production align with the original purpose of the opera, as a small-scale holiday show for children. In 1889, the composer’s sister Adelheid Wette commissioned him to write a few songs for her children’s show, based loosely on the Brothers Grimm fairytale. Following the public’s enthusiastic response, Humperdinck and Wette decided to expand the show into a full two-hour-long opera, which premiered in Weimar in 1893 under the baton of Richard Strauss. 

To appeal to children, Wette decided on a more optimistic adaptation of the Grimm fairytale for her libretto, incorporating additional elements of German folklore. For example, in the forest, Hansel (portrayed here by Leslie Ratner) and Gretel (Melaina Mills) meet the gentle Sandman (Sabino Balsamo), a mythical character in European folklore who sends children to sleep by placing a grain of sand into their eyes and creates beautiful dreams.

After they fall asleep, Hansel and Gretel dream of being protected by 14 angels, which will be portrayed by a teen chorus from the Denver-Boulder area in flowing white costumes. The next morning, the sparkling, elegant Dew Fairy (Balsamo) appears, sprinkling magical dew to awaken the siblings from their peaceful slumber.

With these fantastical elements, Padgett aims to bring out the childlike wonder of Hansel and Gretel as they embark on their adventure, a feeling he hopes will draw the audience into their magical world. 

“Hansel and Gretel are always wondering,” Padgett says. “They’re always asking questions. They’re not only hungry for food but they’re also hungry for knowledge and for excitement. They want to be enchanted.”

Despite the fairytale elements, the opera does explore the darker themes of the Brothers Grimm fairytale, although in a less disturbing way. In the original fairytale, due to the shortage of food and the family’s poverty, the children’s stepmother persuades their father to leave Hansel and Gretel in the woods to die, so the couple don’t starve to death. Later, after being abandoned in the woods by their parents, the siblings, hungry and afraid, wander into the bloodthirsty witch’s magical gingerbread house.

In Humperdinck’s opera, the mother (Lauren Bumgarner) is presented as a more likable, yet complicated character. Filled with despair and frustration as her family starves, the mother sends Hansel and Gretel to the haunted forest to pick strawberries. Realizing her mistake, the mother and father later set off into the forest to save their children.

“One of the themes that children tend to have trouble with in this opera is that the parents have fault in this story,” Padgett says. “It’s not because they’re bad people — they are just humans in a desperate situation. So we try to show how desperate their situation is.”

After the performance, Padgett says this issue will be addressed further in the interactive Q&A session, which will offer children an opportunity to engage with the storyline and the music.

“We want to be able to start a dialogue with kids—not only about the beauty of classical music but also how it reflects real life and its problems,” Padgett says. “This can be a real starting place for a lot of human empathy.”

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Engelbert Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel
Boulder Opera, Brandon Tyler Padgett, director

7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9
2 p.m. and 4 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 11, and Saturday, Dec. 17
4 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 18

The Dairy Arts Center Grace Gamm Theater

TICKETS

Boulder Opera presents a family show about a misbehaving child

Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges will be at the Dairy Center Dec. 17–19

By Peter Alexander Dec. 14 at 10:15 p.m.

You cannot accuse the Boulder Opera Company of a lack of ambition.

Dianela Acosta

The small company under the direction of Dianela Acosta has presented such staples of the repertoire as Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana and Puccini’s La Bohème, as well as operatic rarities by César Cui and Xavier Montsalvatge. That’s in addition to free opera in the park at Boulder‘s Bandshell, concert performances of arias, and outreach to local schools.

All on a small budget, which means the numbers of singers and other musicians, and the extent of the scenery must all be limited. Boulder Opera’s sets and costumes are generally bare bones, and the accompaniment may be only a piano, or piano with a handful of instruments. 

Acosta doesn’t let those limitations stop her. “If I had any hesitation, I wouldn’t have done anything,” she says. She and the crew always find a way to convey the story, and the singers she hires are young professionals whose skill and dedication overcome the musical obstacles. For 10 years Boulder Opera has been reaching a growing audience.

Their next production aimed at families is only about 50 minutes in length, but it is one of the most challenging works yet: Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges (The child and the spells), about a child who misbehaves badly but provides a lesson about kindness and forgiveness. Performances will be Dec. 17 and 19 in the Grace Gamm Theater at the Dairy Arts Center (details below).

The libretto by renowned French writer Colette tells the story of a child who throws a temper tantrum, tearing pages from his schoolbooks and wallpaper from the walls, breaking china and kicking the furniture. The scene suddenly transforms to the garden outside, where animals and objects gang up for revenge, until the child performs a simple act of kindness and is forgiven.

“Finding a subject that was kid-friendly was one of our goals,” Acosta says. “There is this message of kindness at the end. It’s the idea of unconditional love. He is a child and you have to forgive him once he comes out of his tantrum.”

The cast of Boulder Opera’s production of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortiléges. Jenna Clark (center) sings the role of Lenfant.

The score lists more than 20 different singing characters plus a chorus, and it calls for plenty of stage magic—a fire that comes to life, singing furniture, dishes, cats, squirrels, frogs, a dragonfly and a tree, characters from the torn wallpaper and the ripped book, and the transformation of the child’s room into a garden. Here, this must all be done by a cast of 10 and without extensive stage machinery. Costumes are expressive but not elaborate, to keep the changes fast and simple.

L’Enfant et les sortilèges is not done often because of the large cast and the scenery changes,” Acosta says. “As a small company it was a daunting project, but not only have we double cast”—that is, most singers perform more than one role—”most of the characters are also singing in the ensemble. We have a great creative team. Everyone has been very organized and they put their heads together to accomplish it.”

Acosta has been working mostly behind the scenes, so a lot of the challenges fell on the shoulders of stage director Dana Kinney. “You would think with a short production it wouldn’t be so complicated,” she says. “But there are so many characters, all the props, all the costume changes—a lot definitely goes into this production.”

Dana Kinney

While the stage at the Dairy has limited technical resources, Kinney found a silver lining to that, too. “Much as I would love to have a fly-in set of the room into this magical garden, there’s so much happening on stage, (this production) actually gives the audience a chance to focus on the action.”

She said the greatest challenge was a scene where a math teacher and numbers rise out of a book the child has ripped apart. “The music is so active that the action onstage (is) very active as well. That is probably a three-minute scene that took three hours to stage! It’s like the chaos of the child’s head while doing math homework is played out in real life.”

Her favorite scene may be one between two cats, who sing meeows but no real words. “A scene like that is the easiest, because you don’t have to think about the text,” she says. “You can create your own story, and that’s a fun thing to work on. (The singers) are doing all the cat mannerisms, on the floor, and they’re taking complete ownership. It has a lot of playfulness.”

For all of the challenges created by Ravel’s opera, Kinney has enjoyed working with the cast. “I’ve been fortunate to work with this group,” she says. “Everything I threw their way, they committed to 100 percent. They have tried everything while also incorporating their own vision of the characters.

“This is going to be a really, really fun production!”

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Maurice Ravel: L’enfant et les sortilèges (The child and the spells)
Boulder Opera Company
Steven Aguiló-Arbues, conductor; Dana Kinney, stage director
Maggie Hinchcliffe, piano
Performed in French with English titles

7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, and Saturday, Dec. 18
1 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19

Grace Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center
TICKETS 
NOTE: The Diary Arts Center requires masks in public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.

Two productions will bring live music back to Boulder

Outdoor performances Ag. 14–16 and Aug. 29 will observe Coronavirus safety protocols

By Peter Alexander (Aug. 11 at 11:20 p.m.)

Live music is back in Boulder—in a limited, outdoorsy sort of way.

Two outdoor performances later this month will provide live music, for the limited audiences who can get tickets. Both presenters have worked with Boulder Parks and Recreation Department to meet all health requirements. Both will be strictly social distanced, with limited numbers admitted and carefully spaced.

The Gerald Stazio Softball Fields parking lot, site of drive-in performances Aug. 14–16

Boulder Arts Outdoors will present what it calls “A socially-distanced drive-in performance pop-up” this coming weekend, Friday–Sunday, Aug. 14–16. The mixed program of classical, blue-grass, soul, salsa, dance and juggling, will be presented before a drive-in audience at the parking lot of the Gerald Stazio Softball Fields off 63rd Street in East Boulder.

Later in the month, Boulder Opera (BOC) will present its annual Opera in the Park performance in the Boulder Band Shell on Canyon Drive, to an audience limited to 175 people. The performance Saturday, Aug. 29, will be in two parts, with separate admission for each so that more people might have the opportunity to attend. The first half will be music from fairy-tale and fantasy operas, and the second half will be music from Zarzuelas, a popular genre of Spanish musical theater.

Mara Driscoll, the organizer of the Drive-In Festival, recently returned to Boulder from New York, where she dances at the Metropolitan Opera. “I’m still connected to the Boulder arts community, having gown up here, and as a performer I was feeling the disappearance of live performance,” she says.

The band Lady Romeo, one of the groups performing on Boulder Outdoor Arts
drive-in concert

“I really value everyone’s efforts to make things digital and to live stream, but we all know it’s just not the same. I was watching drive-in movie theaters pop up all over the country, and seeing how that made it possible for people to assemble safely, I thought, why not apply that same model to performance? There’s very, very stringent health regulations right now; a lot of the permit process was making sure that I could keep everyone socially distanced.”

The cars the parking lot will be spaced apart, in every second space, and arranged in a horseshoe shape for maximum visibility of the elevated stage located at one end of the lot. The music will be amplified, and also streamed through an FM transmitter for anyone who does not wish to lower their windows.

“The capacity is 40 vehicles, so people will be close enough to the stage that they can hear well, and see the performers,” Driscoll says. “It should feel like an outdoor amphitheater experience, you’re just looking through your windshield.”

The bluegrass duo Sugar Moon

Driscoll used her connections to the Boulder dance and music communities to invite artists and groups to be part of the performances. Some contacts suggested other performers, so that the total program grew to be extremely diverse. 

The schedules over the three nights includes members of the Boulder Symphony, the Renaissance-music vocal quintet Solis Singers, the soul/rock band Lady Romeo, the Bluegrass groups Chandler Holt & Eric Wiggs, Sugar Moon and Bowregard, djembe drumming by Abdoul Doumbia, a new piece created for the occasion by dancer Helanius J. Wilkins, Salsa dance by Marcela Lay and Musa Starseed, Third Law Dance/Theater, and juggling by Peter Davison. The program is slightly different each evening; the full program by date can be seen here

Helanius J. Wilkins

“It’s all about the artists,” Driscoll says. “I really wanted to create a platform for artists to do what they do. It’s exciting what everyone’s going to bring to the table, and I think audiences are going to go for this great ride and leave with a sense of awe at all the creativity and talent that’s right here in Boulder.”

Boulder Opera has offered “Opera in the Park” for several summers running, but this year was different due to the pandemic. “We definitely had to go through a lot of hoops putting in an application with the city of Boulder, to make sure we are following all of the safety precautions for performing live,” Dianela Acosta, the company’s artistic director, says.

“The event is going to be capped at 175 people, and we usually attract between 400 and 600. We have to do social-distance seating, and everybody has to wear masks. We’re going to have to set out some areas where people can sit and be six feet away from each other.

Boulder Opera’s 2019 “Opera in the Park”

The performance is free, Acosta notes, but audience members have to register in advance through Boulder Opera Web page , and bring a copy of their registration with them. Boulder Opera staff will be on hand to direct people to their seats and ensure that no-one who is not registered gets inside the audience area. 

“Our overhead expense have gone up, because there’s  lot of work we have to do to prepare for this,” Acosta says. “And then, for the performer’s safety, we follow the same guidelines, and there’s going to be a protective plastic barrier in front of the stage.”

The program is divide into two halves, each with its own theme and content. “You can register for the first part, or the second part of the concert, or you can register for both parts,” Acosta explains. The music from operas based on fairy tales, including “Hansel and Gretel” and “Cinderella,” on the first part might be more family oriented. The second part features music from a popular Spanish style of light opera, Zarzuela.

Singers from the 2019 performance of Boulder Opera’s “Opera in the Park”

Featured on the first half will be a scene from Hansel und Gretel by Humperdinck; an aria from Rimsky Korsakov’s Snow Maiden; “Olympia’s Song” and the “Barcarolle” duet from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman; “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka by Dvořák, an opera based on the same folk tale as “The Little Mermaid”; a duet and quartet from El Gato con Botas (“Puss in Boots”) by Spanish composer Xavier Montsalvage; and several numbers from La Cenerentola (“Cinderella”) by Rossini.

Forming the second half of he program, “Zarzuela is a traditional opera from Spain,” Acosta says. “It’s based on the folkloric tales and folk songs that have been adapted for operatic singing. And it’s very well known in Spain.”

Dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Zarzuela is contemporaneous with the rise of operetta and musical comedy in the U.S. Neither the titles nor the composers—including Gerónimo Giménez, Federico Moreno-Torroba and Francisco  Barbieri—are familiar to American audiences. Singers for both halves of the program are members of the Boulder Opera company, including Acosta herself. They will be accompanied on piano by Nathália Kato, the BOC staff pianist.

“Our theme is opera for people, and we want to bring these beautiful pieces to our audience as a way to bring the community together,” Acosta says. For those we cannot be brought together on this occasion, when the audience size is limited, the performance will be live streamed through the BOC Facebook page

“That [distanced performing] is going to be just for a little while, and then we are going to hopefully meet together soon again,” Acosta says. “[Online viewing] cannot replace live performances. That’s the beauty of what we do, performing in a live stage! 

“Nothing can substitute for what it means to be sitting there and feeling the vibration of the voice in the instant.”

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Boulder Arts Outdoors: “Drive-in Festival”
6:30 p.m. Friday–Sunday, Aug. 14–16
Gerald Stazio Softball Fields parking lot
Tickets

Boulder Opera: “Fairy-Tale Opera, Zarzuela and Dance”
7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29: Fairy-Tale Fantasy
8:10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29: Zarzuela and Dance
Boulder Bandshell, 1212 Canyon Drive
Tickets
Live stream on the Boulder Opera Facebook page

Boulder Opera presents “purrr-fect introduction to opera”

Montsalvatge’s Puss in Boots will be presented in English and Spanish

By Peter Alexander Jan. 30 at 3:15 p.m.

“It’s a purrr-fect introduction to opera,” Dianela Acosta says about the Boulder Opera’s current production of Gato en botas (Puss in boots) by Spanish composer Xavier Montsalvatge.

pussinboots1

Boulder Opera’s production of “Puss in Boots”: Winona Martin, Nathan Snyder, Jennifer Burks, Steven Groth (l-r)

Acosta is the company’s executive artistic director and a cast member, and she is excited about the upcoming performances, which will be offered in both the original Spanish (with English titles) and in English. “The music is gorgeous,” she says.

”There’s moments of Puccini, there’s Mozart, there’s Handel, there’s recitative, it’s very melodic. It’s also very surprising, the music. It’s beautiful.”

With two separate casts, one for each language, the production will be presented six times over the next two weekends, Thursday Jan. 30 through Saturday Feb. 8 (see dates and times below). Performing in both the original Spanish and in an English translation is part of Boulder Opera’s outreach to area schools—in this case bilingual schools in particular.

“We have a lot of partnerships with schools in the area that are bilingual,” Acosta says. “They’re super interested, because there are not a lot of cultural activities in Spanish. We’ve been really successful with this opera in doing outreach.”

Acosta says that they have arranged for 600 students from 10 different school to attend performances. “We tie it to an educational study guide that talks a little bit about the different elements of the opera, a little bit of the history of the composer, and the history of opera,” she says.

Though unfamiliar to American audiences, Montsalvatge (mont-sahl-VAHT-jeh) is well known in Spain. Acosta, who is Spanish, has sung his art songs, but had not known the opera until she was looking for fairy-tale operas for outreach to families and younger audiences. He wrote Gato con Botas in the 1940s, combining traditional operatic forms and styles with contemporary styles including jazz.

ICarriage

The Princess (Jennifer Burks), King (Steven Groth) and Miller (in river; Nathan Snyder)

The opera is based on the familiar tale of “Puss in Boots,” a conniving cat who uses various tricks to pass off his owner, a poor miller, as a nobleman. He saves his own life in the process, kills an ogre, and arranges for the miler to marry a princess. Naturally, everyone lives happily ever after.

Ashley Gulbranson, music director of the production, says “This is a very accessible opera. It’s two acts with five scenes, and will last less than 60 minutes. So it’s a really great introduction to opera.”

The two casts are entirely separate, with most of the Spanish cast members native Spanish speakers. Having two casts does add to the time needed for rehearsals—”We’ve been having three hour rehearsals, and usually we do about half with one cast, half with another,” Gulbranson says.

That also adds to the cost to the company, but Acosta, who sings el Gato (the cat) in the Spanish cast, said it would have been nearly impossible to perform in both languages with only one cast. “It’s difficult to keep it straight, to keep [the different texts] separate,” she says. “So we just went ahead and hired a Spanish cast.”

To Boulder Opera, the expense is worth it because it contributes directly to their mission of making opera accessible and developing new audiences. “One of the reasons I wanted to do this opera is that it’s part of our children’s series,” Gulbranson says.

“Those performances are reaching a greater audience and getting children and families introduced to the operatic art form.”

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Puss in Boots by Xavier Montsalvatge
Boulder Opera, Michael Travis Risner, artistic director and stage director
Nadia Artman, executive producer, set and costume designer

Performances at E-Town Hall, 1535 Spruce St, Boulder:
10 a.m. and 12 noon Thursday, Jan. 30 (performed in Spanish with English titles)
2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1 (performed in English)
4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1 (performed in Spanish with English titles)
3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2 (English)

Performance at Center for Musical Arts, 200 E. Baseline Rd., Lafayette:
3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8 (performed in English)

Tickets