A&E » Arts

Opera for kids back at MY Place



What: Hansel & Gretel

Where: MY (Millennium) Place

When: Sunday, April 4

Tickets: $15 adults, $9.99 kids

Opera isn’t just for grownups.

That’s the message the Vancouver opera has been professing since the 1960s with their Opera in the Schools program, which takes adapted operatic works out of the grand auditoriums and concert halls and stages them in school gymnasiums.

The program’s mission is a natural fit with Whistler’s Alta Lake School, a private academy with a strong mandate for arts and music education. The school was behind Opera in the Schools’ last Whistler performance of the Magic Flute two years ago, and has arranged for the company to stage its latest incarnation – Hansel and Gretel – in Whistler this Sunday.

Because the school doesn’t have the sprawling gymnasium facilities common to larger public schools the performance will take place at MY Place, giving Whistler families the best of both worlds: an accessible kid-friendly opera show staged in a venue with professional seating, lighting and acoustics.

It’s something director Ann Hodges says the professional cast and accompanying piano player will certainly appreciate, since school gyms can provide some of the worst acoustics possible – a real test of classic opera singing technique.

The production itself is an adaptation of the original opera by Englebert Humperdinck. While the tale of Hansel and Gretel has become a well-known bedtime story, Hodges says the original operatic version is a darker telling more akin to the original fairy tale, and needed considerable rewordings to become kid-friendly. The final Opera In The Schools version has been condensed to 45 minutes, from two and a half hours, and translated into English with the more disturbing images and scenes removed. The result is a staging Hodges says has the "fun and vigour" of the kind of fairy tale with which North American kids are familiar.

Hodges says much of the production’s tone comes from the vivid costume and set design by Christine Reimer.

"She’s put together a fantastic world of colour and craziness. With the character of the witch, we’re not going for the clichéd, green-face-black hat witch; we went with something that’s really colourful – kind of goodness gone bad," says Hodges.

And whether it’s an opera or a cartoon, there are certain things kids have a universal appreciation for, she adds, like a house made of candy, and using kid-smarts to escape from a jam.

A question and answer period will follow the show on Sunday afternoon, during which Hodges is expecting classic queries such as "is the house really made of candy?" and "are those the witch’s real teeth?" But she’s also expecting the unexpected – a smart move with an audience full of kids.

Hansel and Gretel takes the stage at MY Place this Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $9.99 for kids. For more information call 604-935-8410 or go to www.whistlermillenniumpl.com.

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