Hansel and Gretel Review gave students a sweet flavor

By Brian Ramsay

November 6, 2012

[caption id="attachment_13677" align="alignnone" width="300"] The wizard puts the kids to sleep. Photo by Evan Roberts[/caption] Imagine a gumdrop sidewalk leading to a life-size gingerbread house held together with icing. Just about any kid’s, or even adult’s, mouth would salivate at such an idea. This candy coated house was part of “Hansel and Gretel: A Fairy Opera,” which was presented in Potter Hall Oct. 1 through Oct. 4 at Missouri Western. The production was directed by Dr. Susan Carter with music composed by Englebert Humperdinck. This sugary house is all alone in the middle of the woods – but like the house, the woods are anything but ordinary. As something new to the traditionally staged opera, the set for this presentation was all made by digital animation. So in reality, there was no actual candy house to be eaten; it was all through projectors and a cloth backdrop. Truman Vasko and Danny Janovec, digital animation majors, both worked on this aspect of the show. “No one even thought about doing opera and animation together,” Vasko said. “Seeing it work together is just amazing.” Vasko and Janovec spoke on how many long hours and how many changes had to be constantly done to make the whole thing work; Vasko said there were “[a] lot of long nights and a lot of coffee.” However, Vasko said all the nights of coffee consumption paid off in the end. “There were some frustrations, but once you see it, all that is worth it,” he said. The cast and crew worked on this children’s opera, which was for all ages, since the beginning of the fall semester. “About three weeks ago, we did our first performance, which was a shorter program than this,” Sarah Waters, vocal performance major, said. “We went to Eugene Field Elementary and performed for kids out there, a few days later we went to Bessie Ellison, just as a trial run, to get us use to some of the staging and some of the moving.” Not only did the Vasko and Janovec have to make changes, but the actors had to make changes as well. There was a part in the opera that was deemed a bit too scary for children. “Originally I was supposed to backhand my son,” Waters, who played Mother, said. This was a stage slap to make the slap look real even though it wasn’t. As Mother would slap her son Hansel, he would turn around and smack his hands together, so the audience would think she physically hit Hansel. “We did this at Eugene Field and we received reports from the teachers that it really scared some of the kids,” Waters said. “Apparently I was a really scary mom.” They ended up having to tone it down just a bit, from a smack to the face to just a little smack on the rear end. Other problems that the directors had to work on was the idea that operas can sometimes be a bit difficult for people to understand with words being sang instead of spoken. “Diction can sometimes be an issue, especially with an audience like that,” music education major Shea Roberts said about an audience that mainly consisted of children. “You have to make sure to speak loudly and clearly, but I could understand the majority of it.” The digital backdrop portion of the opera was all a movie. The actors and children in the opera had to keep in time with that movie throughout the entire show. “I’ve never seen this level of difficulty with this beautiful animation, which is art on its own,” Carter said, “but then us having to time it just right was difficult.” Even up to the final dress rehearsal it sounds as though there were still challenges that needed to be met. “The last dress rehearsal we were off by two minutes,” Carter said. “It has to be at 28:10 exactly or they can’t push her into the big fire.” To remedy that, the Witch, played by Jeremy Howe, used a wand to control Hansel and Gretel to get them to where they needed to be on time to push the witch into the fire. Carter was pleased with the overall performance, music- and acting-wise. "It's hard. This music is hard music and yes they do it," Carter said. "They do great jobs."