Dr. Joshua May of the UM-Flint Department of Music had a vision of bringing opera to his students and the Flint community. He began with small, portable productions of The Three Little Pigs and Jack and the Beanstalk, performing at area schools and the Flint Farmers’ Market. Now he has moved on to a full-scale production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s nineteenth century opera Hansel and Gretel. Held on the UM-Flint Theatre stage for public audiences on February 19th and 21st, the performance will bring to life the classic fairy tale of two children lost in the woods who are confronted by an evil witch with a love of gingerbread.
The major roles in the cast feature UM-Flint undergrads, graduate students, and alumni:
- Gretel: Marada Dahl (Voice Performance, Music Major, Sophomore)
- Hansel: Miranda Mooney (2015 Alumni, Music Voice Performance)
- Mother: Amanda Rodman (Music Education/Voice Performance, Junior)
- Father: Kevin Starnes (2002 Alumni, Current Grad Student – M.A. in Arts Administration)
- Sandman: Jhane Perdue (Music Major, Voice Performance Major, Freshman)
- Dew Fairy: Erica Kennedy (Theater Music Minor, Voice, Freshman)
- Witch: Hannah Wikaryasz (Voice Performance, Music Major, Senior)
Dr. May notes that this performance opportunity is quite unique for his students, as most music programs do not offer operatic roles to undergraduates. To prepare, he’s been working with them to increase the range and strength of their voices. This is especially important as operas are most often performed without microphones on the singers. The students are embracing this opportunity for artistic and technical growth, and are appreciative of the noteworthy addition an opera makes on their future resumes.
Hannah Wikaryasz of Highland, MI, who plays the Witch says, “This role has helped me to work on expanding my vocal range, has introduced me to working with collaborative artists in a way that I am not used to (orchestra vs. just piano accompaniment), and has given me more experience in this style of music, expanding my abilities as a performer.”
Kevin Starnes of Flint, MI, will be playing the Father. (He grew a beard just for the role!) He has been singing in operas and musical theatre for years, but still found growth under Dr. May’s tutelage. He laughed as he recounted how once daunting notes are now easily within his range.
Opera’s dramatic elements provide additional challenges to the singers. Notes Starnes, “The biggest challenge for me in acting and singing simultaneously is always body mechanics. Sometimes the best way to emote what’s happening on stage might not be the best way to produce the sound that you need. A lot of my time was spent figuring out how I could best communicate the director’s vision while still maintaining the integrity of the sound.”
Wikaryasz is less experienced on the stage, but has come to embrace her role: “At first, I had a hard time stepping out of the box and actually becoming the Witch, instead of being myself as the Witch. Once I was able to let go of any uncertainty, it became much easier for me to get into character. I think the music and lyrics make it easy to get into the acting aspect.”
As Wikaryasz said, this production of Hansel and Gretel has been one of collaboration. Dr. May has received costume assistance from the Kearsley Park Players and the Flint School of Performing Arts; make-up assistance is coming from the Detroit Opera House. The UM-Flint Theatre Department helped with set construction and design. Young performers from the Flint Youth Ballet and the Flint Youth Chorus will join the cast on stage. UM-Flint Music students of the Collegiate Chapter of the National Association for Music Education are acting as teaching artists, visiting area schools and teaching children about the elements of opera. Carol Chaney, UM-Flint Lecturer and Music Department Technology Specialist, has designed an animated element that will wow the audience.
The Music Education students have an especially important role during dress rehearsal on Thursday, February 18th. They will serve as guides to 350 elementary school students who are visiting campus to interact with the vocalists and musicians before the show and then watch the full production. Says Karen Salvador, Assistant Professor of Music Education, “This opera outreach provides amazing opportunities for UM-Flint students and children all over Flint. Music education students are gaining real-world teaching experience in Flint classrooms, Flint children are interacting with college students, seeing live opera performed right in their school, and learning more about music in a hands-on, immersive way. Josh’s vision for this outreach is exactly in line with our university’s mission to partner with communities in ways that are meaningful to all parties. I know that this is an experience that will help shape our Collegiate-NAfME students as teachers, and it could also be an inspiration for a child who loves music.”
The cast is excited for this chance to share the show with a young audience. Says Starnes, “This is by far my favorite part of this production. I’ve loved opera since I was a kid (thank you Bugs Bunny), but I never got the chance to actually learn what opera was until far later. This brings the kids up close and personal so that they can develop an appreciation for the art form early.”
Adds Wikaryasz, “I am ecstatic that children are being involved. I think it is really important for them to be exposed to this kind of music. There are a lot of kids who have never heard or seen an opera before, so giving them a chance to see the opera and learn about it is really special.”
Music lovers of all ages are invited to come see Hansel and Gretel. Shows are Friday, February 19th, at 7:30pm, and Sunday, February 21, at 2pm, in the UM-Flint Theatre (303 E. Kearsley Street, Flint, MI 48502). General admission is only $5; students with a valid ID are free.
For more information please contact the UM-Flint Department of Music at 810.762.3377, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit umflint.edu/music.
Funding and grants for the project were provided by the Nartel Family Foundation, the James A. Welch Foundation, UM-Flint’s University Outreach, and the Department of Music.