Monday, July 27, 2009

More about Hansel and Gretel

July 27, 2009

I have just discovered that this blog was never posted. I'm still getting used to and I'm sure this was posted earlier. However, it seems to have disappeared somehow, so I'm putting it up again, a month later! (Good thing I save these blogs as files.)

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June 25, 2009

It’s hard to believe that I wrote Blog #12 about Hansel and Gretel in Urbana and only now am finishing up the task, almost seven weeks later! Of course I have very good excuses. I’ve begun a number of new pieces, I have to practice for the premiere of Shep Shaprio’s Twelve Fugues in the fall, ditto Tom Johnson’s Organ and Silence, and above all I’ve had to recruit, organize and conduct 80+ trombones for the New York premiere of “Orbits” by Henry Brant. And I’ve been busy writing as well. I’ve been able to keep up with my other blog, the one on the Ives Vocal Marathon website.

But something clearly has to change. There are too many things to write about that are not related to the Ives songs, and I’m getting restless to discuss and promote my own work to a greater extent. So here is the New Blogging Policy—three days a week I’ll write about the Ives songs, and three days a week about my own music and other projects. Specifically:

MWF see the latest musings about the Ives songs at
TuThSat read about what I’m doing otherwise at

Notice that today is a Thursday—I’m getting started with the new schedule right now. This includes new announcements of upcoming events, to be posted later today.

And what about wrapping up Hansel and Gretel? The main thing I have to say about this piece is that it works. I’ve seen three different productions with different strengths and problems. I’ve conducted it, I’ve played the piano part in the orchestra, and recently in Urbana I sat in the house and watched/listened to a Sitzprobe, two piano dress rehearsals, two orchestra dresses and three performances. I’ve observed the reaction of audiences in three different cities in two different countries, as well as groups of school children in many towns around and about Connecticut in the late 1990s. I have gone over the parts more times that I care to remember, and tweaked the piece and tweaked the piece until I know it represents my final intentions. And of course I wrote the thing in the first place. I know it inside and out, as composer, copyist, performer, spectator and observer of other spectators, all this over a period of twelve years. I have earned the right to say it works!

I also know that this opera has succeeded in making the dance an integral part of the drama, one of my conscious goals in composing it. I learned that the preparations for the Illinois production began with Rebecca Nettl-Fiol teaching the dance steps, before the cast learned a note of the music or even read the book together. The first two rehearsals were entirely devoted to dancing. The principals were also required to take dance classes the semester of the production. The result was a seamless integration of the dancing into the flow of the show, to the delight of composer, cast and audience alike.

This opera has, I believe, a bright future. I just have to find the key that unlocks the door to it. There are seven directors around the United States who have expressed an interest in doing it, and I’ll be sending out some sample vocal scores very soon. And I hope the wonderful singers who devoted so much energy and expertise to my work will tell others about it. Electronic communication is remarkably fast these days, but word-of-mouth moves more slowly than in the past. We’ll see what happens. My goal is to replace Humperdinck on the stages of the world in five years.

For the record, the wonderful cast of the Urbana production was as follows—my deepest thanks to you all.

The singers:

Hansel: Jeremy Fisher
Gretel: Alison Wahl
Their Father: Chadley Ballantyne
Their Stepmother: Yoo-Sun Na
A Wicked Witch: Laura Kimmel
A Messenger Bird: Jackie Schiffer
A Duck: Sam Lopata

Non-speaking roles:

Storybook Reader: Renata Herrera
A White Cat: Young-Sun Lee
A Pigeon: Joseph Hutto
Lead Dancer: Aaron White
With other dancers and a Chorus of Birds, big and little

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