Soprano Ashley Fabian, the second-year Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist, will be one of the promising features in the company’s upcoming production of Hansel & Gretel, German composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s musical treatment of the beloved fairy tale, first heard at the Hoftheater in Weimar on December 23, 1893. Antony Walker will conduct the performances of the production, directed by Mt. Lebanon native Crystal Manich, beginning Saturday evening, November 3, with repetitions on the 6th, 9th and 11th. While the opera is based on a children’s story, the music is a delight for all lovers of exquisite orchestration and beautiful singing. The production will be an especially refreshing dose of German opera, which we get rarely, but will be performed in an English translation, against scenery owned by Washington National Opera.
Ms. Fabian, who will sing and act the role of Gretel, recently took the time to share a few thoughts on the production.
“I am so excited to do this role,” she said regarding her return to the Benedum. “This is probably the biggest role I’ve done on a stage this size. It’s exciting to portray a child. It takes so much energy, but it also gets rid of all the anxieties that you feel as a performer. It allows me as a singer to perform freely and without hesitation, and that is such an incredible experience.” She won’t be the only “child” on the stage, as a group from the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus will be included in the performances. “I hear that they’re all different heights, and I think there are going to be some children that are taller than me. So I’m expecting that I’ll blend right in.”
She pointed out that Humperdinck’s libretto, written by his sister, Adelheid Wette, is not as mean-spirited as the original “Grimm” fairy-tale. “The mother and father don’t want their children to die – they don’t intentionally send the kids out hoping they will get lost. The mother has no idea that the witch is in the woods until the father tells her. In the opera, the parents want to get them home safely, these kids inadvertently sent into the haunted forest by mistake.”
Marianne Cornetti, well-known to local audiences for many years, will sing the role of the Witch. “She’s so much fun to work with,” Ms. Fabian said of the mezzo-soprano. “She really embodies the character, and she gets really into it, and is a little scary, actually. She gets to scare us, and she enjoys torturing us a little bit. It’s really, really fun. Rehearsals are going very well. The cast is phenomenal. It’s really great to work with everyone who has been a Resident Artist with Pittsburgh Opera. We have this little connection that you don’t normally have with a cast that comes together for a show like this. The director, Crystal Manich, is fantastic at putting everything together and making everything feel and look very natural, but also very entertaining. And it’s really fun to create these characters with the other cast members.”
Indeed, the principal cast is made up entirely of former or current members of Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist program. Corrie Stallings – whose 11th-hour assumption of Rosina in The Barber of Seville in 2016 will long be remembered as a genuine tour de force – returns to sing and act the “pants role” of Hansel. Leah Heater (formerly Leah de Gruyl), always a delight in past productions, will be the Mother, and baritone Craig Verm, another alumnus, returns as the Father. Newcomer Caitlin Gotimer, soprano, will sing two roles – the Dew Fairy and Sandman. These, along with Ms. Fabian and Ms. Cornetti, will make for a fine ensemble of talent.
“This is one of my favorite operas,” Ms. Fabian concluded. “I don’t think any other opera can match its charm. It’s such a beautiful score, and the characters are all so charming. I think it’s really going to be a lot of fun for the whole family.”
For tickets, full production details and more, visit Pittsburgh Opera.
NOTE – In addition to the regular performances of Hansel & Gretel, Pittsburgh Opera’s annual “Student Matinee” will present the opera on Thursday, November 8 at the Benedum Center. Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artists will take lead roles in the matinee, and will be accompanied by the Pittsburgh Opera Orchestra. Tickets are $10 and are reserved through Pittsburgh Opera’s Education Department. For more information, please contact Marilyn Michalka Egan, Ph.D., Director of Education, at 412-281-0912, ext. 242.
David Bachman Photography
A Pittsburgh native, George B. Parous began his studies of music and the ‘cello in grade school before his interests turned to opera, its performers and history while in his teens. He has been acknowledged as a contributor or editor of several published works (the first being “Rosa Raisa, A Biography of a Diva,” Northeastern University Press, 2001), and is currently working on his own biography of the German-American dramatic soprano, Johanna Gadski, who sang at the Metropolitan during the “Golden Age of Opera.” A retired IT Analyst, he is an avid genealogist, and has traced his maternal line to 8th century Wessex, England. He’s been a contributor to Pittsburgh in the Round since 2014.