Greensboro Opera launches a new production in a new performance space
We all know the story: A brother and sister lose their way in a forest and come upon a gingerbread house laden with sweets; weak with hunger, they start nibbling at the confection . . . only to discover it is the property of a witch who uses the sugary structure to lure young children for her own consumption. Grim and grisly stuff, as written by the Brothers Grimm. Though the story is well-worn, the operatic adaptation of Hansel and Gretel by 19th-century German composter Engelbert Humperdinck “has some of the most beautiful music,” says David Holley, director of Greensboro Opera.
He has equal praise for the new venue where the production will be performed March 8, 9 and 10: Well-Spring Theatre, situated on the campus of Well-Spring retirement community. “It’s just a gem,” Holley affirms. “It’s got great acoustics, great sightlines and there’s not a bad seat in the house.” Accommodating 330, the performance space consists of a traditional proscenium theater, but as Holley observes, it’s designed in such a way to serve multiple purposes. “It’s intimate, inviting, yet spacious.”
He should know, having watched the theater’s construction from the time it was “a concrete slab.” About four years ago, Holley’s colleague on the UNCG music faculty and Well-Spring’s director of programs Garrett Saake made an attractive offer: “He said, ‘We want to get professional arts organizations booked in the new performance space,’” Holley recalls. “I immediately said, ‘yes!’” (As did Five By O.Henry, Greensboro Symphony and Bel Canto Company). Ever since, the opera company has used Well-Spring for rehearsals of Daughter of the Regiment, Madame Butterfly, Carmen and Cinderella. “It’s great, because the residents can come and go,” Holley says.
Now it’s the general public’s turn to get in on the act. Or more specifically, the three acts of Hansel and Gretel, which was chosen for its popularity among opera buffs and novices alike. In addition to the familiar plot, “it’s an hour-and-a-half and in English,” Holley notes. But just as that gingerbread house in the forest enchants the opera’s protagonists, it’s the music that enchants audiences. Holley waxes poetic about the sublime “Evening Prayer,” and the, well, sweet sounds of Greensboro Youth Chorus filling cast as the other child victims of the witch’s evil spells. “A lot of it is folk-based, simple, accessible,” he says of the score. “It is one opera where people will leave humming a tune.” — Nancy Oakley OH