Don't miss: Shoestring Opera's Hansel & Gretel

Don't miss: Shoestring Opera's Hansel & Gretel

Jenna Simeonov

Toronto-based Shoestring Opera has been busy bringing opera to young audiences since 2004. They adapt classic works like Carmen and The Magic Flute, condense them to about 45 minutes in length, and spin the stories so they’re entertaining, accessible, and appealing to kids. The results include “glorious music, madcap humour and great storytelling. Irresistible to all ages!”

On Sunday, June 5 North York’s Solar Stage Children’s Theatre, Shoestring Opera presents two performances of their very own adaptation of Humperdinck’s Hänsel and Gretel, with a libretto by Mark Brownell. In their tale, Hansel and Gretel have an odd neighbour, who “might be a witch, with an awful twitch, who rides the air with a broomstick switch!” At 11am and 2pm, audiences can enjoy gorgeous music, learn some new dance moves, and hear a new take on a classic story.

We chat with cellist and Shoestring Opera Executive Producer Anne Rankin, about their upcoming Hansel and Gretel, and the fun of tailoring grown-up operas for young listeners.

How have you adapted your Hansel and Gretel to better suit a younger audience?

Shoestring Opera’s Hansel and Gretel is set on Halloween Night. Hansel and Gretel are home alone because their mum is at work. They struggle with sibling rivalry and disobedience, and make the mistake of going out trick or treating on their own after their mother has instructed them not to. It is after they return home and fall asleep, buzzing from their candy sugar high, that they have a dream of being lost in a forest. Our younger audience members are challenged to separate fantasy from reality in the dream sequence, during which emerges someone who strangely resembles the weird cello lady who lives next door… a Singing, Dancing, Wicked Witch Cellist!

Shoestring Opera's *Schoolyard Carmen*. Video:

What kind of feedback have you received from school performances of Hansel and Gretel so far?

The performance always ends on a high because the last number includes the whole audience. Three hundred kids stand up and dance with Hansel and Gretel, re-enacting the steps that have been seen earlier in the performance. Hansel’s hip hop moves are not lost on the kids and it’s always amazing to us that the audience shouts out the last lyric spontaneously.

Hansel and Gretel are often swarmed by kids at the end of performances. The Witch on the other hand is usually left to her own devices. One child did confess: “I feel a bit sorry for the Witch. It’s not her fault that all she can eat is little children.”

Has the show evolved since its initial performance?

Our librettist Mark Brownell is super talented, his lyrics are whimsical and witty. He re-wrote the Witch’s dance to include Hansel and Gretel. Now it’s a trio for spell-cast siblings and a wacky witch.

We had to fundraise before we could hire our designers to build a cauldron and a gingerbread house backdrop, which are truly amazing. For our workshop performances we had to make do with a homemade set. Mark Brownell nearly killed himself hammering together a makeshift cauldron and my ten year old son painted his own vision of a gingerbread house on an old sheet. I love it. We photographed it and mention it in our Study Guide (available online here) in order to encourage children to create their own costumes and sets when they put together their own operas at home or school.

Shoestring Opera's *La flute enchantée*. Video:

Shoestring Opera’s Hansel and Gretel plays at 11am and 2pm on June 5th at the Solar Stage Children’s Theatre, 4950 Yonge Street, North York, ON. For full details and ticket information, follow our box office links below.

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