Monday, May 4, 2009

Blog #12, Hansel and Gretel's 3d production

May 4-12, 2009

The third production of my Hansel and Gretel is now history. It was, if I do say so myself, a triumph. I hope the word gets out this time. The perceived wisdom used to be that it was easy to get an opera premiered, but if you got a second production of the work it would surely have a life of its own. Well, the first full production of H&G, meaning two acts with orchestra, took place in 1998. (In 1996 and 1997 it had 60 performances as an abbreviated show for school kids.) The second production was in 2002 and, taking the perceived wisdom for granted, I thought the piece had it made. Even though an intense effort was made to interest many professional and university opera agencies, the third production wasn’t immediately forthcoming.

All of this was going to change, starting on February 17, 2006. The Wind Symphony of the University of Illinois, under the baton of James Keene, made its historic debut at Carnegie Hall that evening. Phyllis and I were invited to the concert by Karl Kramer, director of the U of IL School of Music and long-time friend. Karl also invited us to have lunch with his wife Jean and various members of the Illinois faculty and administration at Rosa Mexicali, earlier that same day. I was seated next to the recently-appointed director of the school’s opera program, Eduardo DiazmuƱos. We hit it off immediately, and in my usual shameless fashion I began to promote Hansel and Gretel. He was taken with the idea of the piece, and asked me to send him stuff about it. I sent the vocal score, a program, and a CD of the original cast with me at the piano, conducted by Robert Ashens. Eduardo contacted me soon afterwards and said he definitely wanted to do the piece, and by the summer of 2007 the production was projected for the spring of 2009.

The foresight and imagination of Maestro DiazmuƱos included engaging a first-class director, Ricardo Herrera; a kick-ass choreographer, Rebecca Nettl-Fiol; and conductor Serge Pavlov, who is as devoted to the work as any composer could ever wish. Phyllis and I arrived in Urbana on Friday 24 April, just before the start of the second Sitzprobe. (For those of you not familiar with opera lingo: the Sitzprobe, or just “Sitz,” is a seated rehearsal for singers and orchestra. No moving around the stage, just staying still and working with the conductor once more on musical details before the chaos of the final rehearsals sets in. An operatic “calm before the storm,” as it were.) I didn’t see the director and choreographer at work, but I quickly realized that the orchestra was in more-than-capable hands and that Serge was going to do a great job with my piece.

The schedule:
Sunday 26 April—first dress rehearsal with piano
Monday 27—second piano dress
Tuesday 28—first dress rehearsal with orchestra
Wednesday 29—second orchestra dress
Performances on May 1, 2 and 3

There was to have been a performance on Thursday the 30th, but there was a massive power failure in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and the Chancellor of the university ordered the evacuation of the facility and the cancellation of all events, rehearsals, etc. So opening night was actually on Friday.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As Becky Nettl-Fiol said, the cast really needed a night off. Gretel was on the verge of getting really sick, lots of the dancers were feeling their aches and pains, vocal fatigue was starting to show in most of the cast (especially Hansel, who cracked on his high C in all four dress rehearsals, but not on opening night). After a good night’s sleep and not having to do the show eight times in a row (!!) we opened on Thursday to tumultuous applause.

I have more to say about this production, and will write again soon. In the meantime, you may want to know more about the original Grimm Brothers tale. I found a great comparison of their first edition of the tale (1812) and their final one (1857). Check it out: