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by Daniel Hathaway

Oberlin-H&G-1Jonathon Field never fails to bring new insights into his opera productions, and Oberlin Opera Theater’s fall show, Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel is full of details that add to the delicious ambiguity of what many of us think of as a children’s opera. After all, it’s a fairy tale decked out with a wicked witch, a gingerbread house and guardian angels. But scratch the surface of this musical rendering of a Brothers Grimm story and disturbing topics come to light.

When we first meet Hansel (Marisa Novak) and Gretel (Alexis Aimé), they seem like normal adolescent siblings who are locked in a continuous squabble — until you notice that there’re a lot of physical blows being exchanged. That’s a stock element in all kinds of comedy from Punch and Judy shows to animated cartoons, but as the scene goes on and mother (Kayleigh Decker) and father (Daveed Buzaglo) come home, the level of physical violence begins to add up to a diagnosis: this is a dysfunctional family who are plagued by hunger, overshadowed by drunkenness and who take out their frustrations on each other with fists and brooms (their cottage industry has stockpiled plenty of weapons close at hand).

You can set that level of analysis aside if you like, but it keeps coming back. Read the rest of this entry »

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by Mike Telin

JESSE-KarenThe first volume of children’s tales published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 includes some of today’s most beloved stories such as Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin. Also included in that volume is the tale of Hansel and Gretel, two children who cleverly outwit a witch. This week, Englebert Humperdinck’s adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale returns to the Hall Auditorium stage in Oberlin in four performances by Oberlin Opera Theatre, Raphael Jimenez conductor. The production also marks the return of rising opera star Karen Jesse (left) who is reviving her role as the witch.

The opera was last staged at Oberlin in 2003. Oberlin Opera theatre director Jonathon Field says this production is very different from the traditional approach to the opera that he took in the past. “As I was working on it during the spring I became disenchanted with the way I had done it before, so I took my score and erased all of my staging. I also began to look at the characters and tried to figure out some of the motivations — like what it was that led Hansel and Gretel to survive the witch when all of the other kids hadn’t.” However it is Field’s character motivations that prompted him to include a disclaimer in the opera’s publicity materials — Please note: Portions may not be suitable for patrons younger than 12.

Field points out that Hansel and Gretel come from a family that is very poor and often goes hungry. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Fledermaus-1It was clear from the first notes of the overture on Wednesday evening in Hall Auditorium that Oberlin Opera Theater’s Die Fledermaus was going to be a musically distinguished production. Guest conductor Raphael Jiménez and the Oberlin Orchestra (which he regularly conducts in concerts) took brisk tempos and played all the tunes that would come around later with verve and precision, including some wicked violin licks. Jiménez, who has plenty of experience in the opera pit, led a tight performance of the entire operetta, closely partnering singers and infusing the orchestra playing with enough Viennese rhythmic nuance to sound authentic.

The opening night cast for Johann Strauss II’s dizzy tale of a Viennese practical joke that gets repaid with interest was strong, confident and wonderfully comedic. Read the rest of this entry »

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Daniel Hathaway
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