York stages a contemporary version of a sweet classic

The York community will be treated to a contemporary staged performance of German composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s popular fairy opera Hansel and Gretel by the Department of Music on April 7.

Artistic and stage director Stephanie Bogle and music director and pianist Raisa Nakhmanovich direct a cast of rising young singers in the classical vocal performance program in an abbreviated English-language version of this accessible opera for all ages. Set inside a candy store, York’s production features costumes, set and props devised by the performers, who bring a modern sensibility to this cautionary tale.

Right:  Engelbert Humperdinck

Two separate casts will perform the work on the same day, first at 12:30pm and then at 3pm in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, 112 Accolade East Bldg. Admission is free to both performances.

Soprano Hillary Coote plays Gretel in the first cast. This fourth-year music student performed the role of Madame Sylvain in the Toronto Operetta Theatre (TOT) production of The Merry Widow and was a member of the ensemble in TOT’s The Count of Luxembourg. Coote has won numerous awards and scholarships in vocal competitions, including the senior scholarship at the Newmarket Voice Festival in 2006 and the opera bursary in York Region’s 2005 Celebration of the Arts.

Left: Hillary Coote

Featured in the trouser role of Hansel in the second cast is mezzo-soprano Laura Kelly. Likewise in fourth year, Kelly sang the national anthem at this year’s Order of Ontario ceremony at Queen’s Park. A regular soloist at York events, she was also featured at Orillia’s Concert of the Stars for the past three years. Kelly’s many awards and scholarships include Best Female Vocalist in Orillia’s Kiwanis Festival in the last two years running and the Catherine Robbin Scholarship for most emotionally-moving performance at the 2007 Newmarket Voice Festival. Operatic roles she has studied at York include Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte and the Third Lady in The Magic Flute, both Mozart compositions.

Right: Laura Kelly

Based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Hansel and Gretel is the best-known work by Humperdinck who died in 1921. It premiered in Weimar, Germany, in 1893 under the baton of the composer Richard Strauss, who dubbed it "a masterpiece of the highest quality". With its highly original synthesis of Wagnerian techniques and traditional German folk songs, Hansel and Gretel was an instant and overwhelming success. In 1923 it became the first complete opera ever to be broadcast on radio (from Covent Garden, London), and eight years later it was the first opera to be transmitted live from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. It remains a perennial favourite with audiences young and old around the world.

Bogle, an acclaimed soprano, imparts her wealth of experience performing on opera stages around the world by teaching classical voice and vocal diction at York. Her performance credits include two world premieres at Carnegie Hall (Robert DeGaetano’s Moneta and Four Shakespearean Sonnets), repeat engagements with L’Opera de Nice, and appearances with most major Canadian companies.

A well-known accompanist and music director, Nakhmanovich teaches piano, piano accompaniment and piano pedagogy at York. She’s worked as a pianist and coach with Toronto Opera Repertoire, Opera Mississauga and Toronto Operetta Theatre, and as a musical director with such companies as Opera in Concert, Summer Opera Lyric Theater and Premiere Opera Company among others.

The presentation of Hansel and Gretel is the culmination of Bogle’s Staging & Movement for Classical Singers course which explores movement, stage style and manner, and acting techniques for the classical singer. Works from the standard repertoire are selected and the young singers are coached and directed in various solo and ensemble scenes.