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‘Hansel and Gretel’ the opera: BSU production promises something for all

Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer The Bemidji Opera Theater production will present “Hansel and Gretel” with four performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturdat all at 7 p.m and a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb 22 in the Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex Main Theater. Shown above, the cast and chorus rehearse a scene, Hansel is played by Amanda Boring and Gretel is Margaret Ragan.

BEMIDJI — Have you seen the posters around town for “Hansel and Gretel,” the one drawn by young child?

Why would the Bemidji State University department of music use a child’s drawing to interest families in attending an opera? Or did you know that a children’s chorus from Horace May School has been rehearsing with their music teacher, Dawn Logan, to be part of the production?

The buzz is around town, a German opera sung in English with subtitles so no one misses a word, fully staged and costumed, chamber orchestra and voice students from BSU.

“Hansel and Gretel” by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and two shows on Saturday — 2 p.m. matinee and again at 7 p.m. on the main stage of Bangsberg Fine and Performing Arts Complex of BSU. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for children and free for BSU and Northwest Technical College students with a valid ID. Tickets will be available at the door, or call 755-2867 with any ticket concerns or group sales.

This opera is a lighter version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Humperdinck composed the music to the fledgling libretto of a children’s opera about love and family loyalty and the absent mindedness of innocent children. The opera premiered in December 1893 under the baton of Richard Strauss, who exclaimed, “(this is) a masterpiece of the highest quality… all of it original, new, and so authentically German.”

“The reason why I picked the show is because I wanted to produce something that would make kids happy,” said Cory J. Renbarger, professor of voice at BSU. “I have a wonderful five-year-old daughter, Bella, and I have involved her as much as I could; she designed the poster. I see all these children and it’s been awhile since there has been some programming for them. My wife, Amanda, has been instrumental in picking out every show I’ve ever directed.  We sat down together and looked at who we had, and she said that it would be wonderful if we could do ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and I got in touch with Matt.”

Social media brought old acquaintances together when Renbarger and Matthew Goinz reunited after being undergraduates together at Concordia College.

“I was at the University of Arizona, finishing up my master’s degree in choral conducting, not knowing what my next step would be. When I saw that Cory was going to teach at BSU. . .” said Matthew Goinz. “It was pretty serendipitous that Cory and I hooked up after 15-years because we fell out of touch for awhile.”

Goinz said his interest in opera was peaked at that time, after being musical director for “Madama Butterfly” for Loon Opera Co. The offer was extended to direct the spring opera at BSU and Goinz quickly accepted. Goinz said his ultimate goal is to move into a collegial setting after he attains his doctoral degree in musical arts.

“Matt’s the brainy and nerdy one, and I am the emotional one with his heart on his sleeve,” Renbarger said. “So he (Goinz) searched on the Internet and found a chamber version by John Longfellow. Matt and I haven’t made music together for a long time, and I wanted that experience again.”

Renbarger and Goinz said they knew BSU students had the voices for “Hansel and Gretel”; it’s a difficult musical and hard to perform because it is Wagnerian. It is thick, emotional and there is a lot going on and it requires proficiency by the singers and musicians because the way the scores moves from key to key is more complex with lots of sharps and flats (chromatics).

“The students are really stepping up,” Goinz said. “For me, it is really satisfying to see their faces now, full of confidence. When they first looked at the score, how intimidated they were and now after four weeks, they are ready.”

In short, the mechanism for staging ‘Hansel and Gretel’ at BSU began more than a year ago and it has blossomed into a community production.

The show is double cast and there will be four performances in all, with a matinee on Saturday, so there should be enough seating for all who want to attend. The show is fully staged with the lighting and set pieces by Tom Skime, technical manager at BSU; a pit orchestra which includes members of the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra under the baton of music director and conductor Goinz; fun costumes designed by Frederick Rogers, a retired Broadway costumer; make-up by the Professional Salon Academy and overall direction by Renbarger.

The duo believes that everyone in the audience will be happy with the ending because the parents find the children and the witch is thrown into the oven and turned into gingerbread. She will no longer entice children with her little ditty, “nibble, nibble little mouse.”