Don't go into the woods
July 4, 2008 · Updated 11:54 AM
Just as Hansel and Gretel can't resist the lure of the wicked witch's delicious gingerbread house, Kitsap Opera General Manager Leone Cottrell-Adkins hopes local children can be lured to opera with a production of the classic fairy tale.
And they will have a much sweeter reward than the brother and sister of old.
Kitsap Opera presents "Hansel and Gretel," Oct. 15 and 16 at the Admiral Theatre.
Cottrell-Adkins said education is part of the mission of Kitsap Opera, but that it can be difficult to entice children to a production. It's hard to sugarcoat Wagner.
"There are not many operas for them, but this one is ideal," she said.
The libretto for "Hansel and Gretel" was written in 1890 by Adelheid White, sister of English composer Engelbert Humperdinck, to entertain her children. She persuaded her famous brother (the composer, not the 1960s pop star) to write the music for the opera. The story goes that he was not enthusiastic about the idea, as he had his sights on loftier goals.
At that time he was working with the master of heavy opera, Richard Wagner. Listen for the Wagnerian touches throughout the opera. "The Witches Ride" sounds suspiciously like "Ride of the Valkyeries."
White tempered the somewhat gruesome tale by the aptly named Brothers Grimm. Instead of being banished to the forest by the wicked stepmother, they are sent out by their own mother to pick strawberries for dinner, a punishment for not doing their chores.
The children venture into the foreboding, bewitched Ilsenstein woods, where they get lost and have to spend the night.
The sleeping siblings are guarded over by the Sandman, 14 Guardian Angels and the Dew Fairy.
When they awaken they see a delicious-looking gingerbread house, which of course is inhabited by a wicked witch. From there the opera proceeds predictably to its happy ending, with the children reunited with their parents and the witch getting her comeuppance.
Cottrell-Adkins said that while the storyline is simple, "Hansel and Gretel" is a difficult opera to perform, both for the singers and the musicians.
"But we have some very, very good singers," she said.
Playing the lead role of the Witch is Barbara Smith Jones, who is becoming a familiar face -- and voice -- in Kitsap County. She was last seen locally in Kitsap Opera's 2004 production of "La Traviata."
Cottrell-Adkins said they had to play down her large, Wagnerian voice for this production, giving it the character of a wizened old witch.
Wagner is a large part of Jones' repertoire. She has sung in "Ring Cycle" productions in Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco, and is planning a trip to Bangkok next year to sing Fricka in Wagner's "Rheingold."
She has sung with opera companies around the world, and has received numerous awards from the Wagner Societies of New York and Northern California. She lives in Seattle.
Hansel and Gretel are not played by children, as the parts are too demanding for smaller voices.
Hansel is played by Melissa Plagemann, who has performed in opera productions throughout the Northwest, including with the Tacoma Opera and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. She has degrees in music from the University of Victoria in British Columbia and Indiana University.
"You have to be a very good singer for this part," Cottrell-Adkins said. "It's really not that simple."
Gretel is played by Linda Mattos, a regular with the Seattle Opera Chorus since 2001. Operas in which she had performed include "Ariadne auf Naxos" with the Seattle Opera, "The Barber of Seville" with the Rogue Opera in southern Oregon and "Carmen" with the Obsidian Opera Company in Bend, Ore.
Father is played by Friedrich Konstantin Schlott and Mother is played by Regina Thomas. Sara Moran is the Dew Fairy and Eric Spencer is the Sandman.
Kathryn Lee Moss is the stage director, back in the United States after spending time in London directing "The Turn of the Screw."
The fairy tale set was designed by Richard Washek, who stepped in when longtime stage designer and builder Forrest Addy fell ill.
Providing live orchestral accompaniment to the production are as many musicians as Cottrell-Adkins could fit in the Admiral Theatre's orchestra pit. That's about 30, compared to the 80 that the opera usually requires.
"The orchestration is so heavy, it's been a real challenge, even though we have the best musicians around," she said.
Most of the musicians are regulars in the Bremerton Symphony Orchestra.
Cottrell-Adkins said "Hansel and Gretel" will appeal to young and old alike.
"The adults will be most into it, as they will reminisce about the fairy tale and how it affected them when they were young," she said. "But the children can't help but enjoy the magic on stage."
The full opera will be performed at 8 p.m. on Oct. 15 and 3 p.m. Oct. 16.
Tickets for the one hour performance are $5 adults, $3 children, available at the door, open seating.
Tickets for the Oct. 15 dinner show are $53 with 6:30 p.m. seating, reservations required; tickets for the Oct. 15 show only and Oct. 16 show are $24 main floor, $20 loge, $18 balcony for adults, $10 all seats for children 12 and under, except the dinner show. All seats reserved.