The Radford University Opera Workshop and Department of Dance will present the children's opera "Hansel and Gretel" in free public performances Wednesday, April 11, at 8 p.m. and Thursday, April 12, at 11 a.m. at the Bondurant Auditorium in Preston Hall.
Written by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck, "Hansel and Gretel" has been a mainstay in European opera houses and beloved by children since the 19th century. Radford's production adds a touch of whimsy and a new twist by setting the classic fairy tale in the 1950s.
Director Robert Chafin, an adjunct professor in the Department of Music, described the production as a "unique treatment."
"This style of directing is called Regietheater in Germany, or concept theatre, where you take a subject and update it or put it in a different situation than before," Chafin said, adding that the word can also translate as director's theatre.
Chafin recently performed in Carnegie Hall with the American Symphony Orchestra and will tour Europe this summer to perform in numerous productions and music festivals. Recently having visited Germany, where "Hansel and Gretel" is set, the director said he is excited to share his vision of the familiar story with the Radford students who will perform it and with residents of the New River Valley.
"I got the chance to finish directing the opera scenes program in the fall semester of 2011 and saw the potential that Radford has," Chafin said. "When I was asked to stay on for the spring semester, I decided to mount a full operatic production."
Chafin said he first saw RU dance students on stage at a recital at Preston Auditorium in December. "I was blown away by the talent and depth of what they produced that evening," he said.
RU's "Hansel and Gretel" is a Minds Wide Open production. The statewide campaign promotes the collaboration of artists, arts organizations, museums and libraries to present thousands of performances, exhibitions, festivals, film screenings and readings by, for or about children and the arts. Participation in Minds Wide Open: Virginia Celebrates Children and the Arts is open to all artists, arts organizations, schools, museums and libraries in Virginia.
"The excitement about collaboration is the fact that you can have a huge exchange of ideas as the singers and dancers work together toward a common goal," Chafin said. "It is a chance for students from different backgrounds and rehearsal techniques to get together."
Radford students and faculty members with expertise in dance, theatre, music, costume design and production are collaborating on "Hansel and Gretel" in a 20th century setting, he said. The costumes will suggest that time period, and the production will also highlight the conflict facing Hansel and Gretel's parents as they struggle to feed the family.
"The other part of the 'unique treatment' equation is using the dancers as actual set pieces," he said. "It would take a lot of money and effort to produce an actual gingerbread house, so this is where we could use imagination and modern dance to help tell the story. The dancers will also help propel the story forward."