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Press Release


Jean Oelrich
Director of Communications
(714) 876-2380

Pacific Symphony’s “Family Musical Mornings” Kicks off New Year with “Hansel and Gretel, Opera For Kids!”—Based on one of the Most Popular Children’s Fairytales of all!

Orange County, Calif. — December 22, 2016

Start the New Year off on a note of happily-ever-after with Pacific Symphony’s abridged version of one of the best-known and most-loved fairy-tales-turned-opera, “Hansel and Gretel, Opera for Kids!” Sparking imaginations with its enchanting tale and mesmerizing music, Engelbert Humperdinck’s adaptation for opera of the Brothers Grimm classic fairy tale follows the adventures of two hungry children lost in an enchanted forest, an inviting (and delicious!) gingerbread house and a very wicked witch. This kid-friendly (especially ages 5-11 but enjoyed by all), 45-minute version, led by Assistant Conductor Roger Kalia, spotlights some of the most charming and memorable tunes from the opera, sung by talented vocalists including students and alumni from Chapman University, and The All-American Boys Chorus.

This Family Musical Mornings concert, presented by Farmers & Merchants Bank, takes place on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $15-$40. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit

“I’m looking forward to conducting this wonderful opera with our amazing orchestra and talented singers,” says Maestro Kalia. “The production is quite unique in that we have our singers performing with the orchestra onstage, which makes the concert a semi-staged opera. In addition to the incredible music, we’re going to engage the audience by having them move along with the music during one of the arias. And at one point, Gretel begins to sing offstage, which should be extremely memorable. I’m also excited to work with The All American Boys Chorus, which plays the role of the Gingerbread Chorus. The sets and costumes will be gorgeous, and having Pacific Symphony on stage will be both inspiring and visually stunning.”

And don’t miss the Musical Carnival, which begins at 9 a.m. (for the 10 a.m. concert) and 12:15 p.m. (for the 11:30 a.m. concert), where children and families are invited to participate in interactive musical activities that are both fun and educational. For this concert, participants will be treated to excerpts from the opera, “Hansel and Gretel,” sung by vocalists in the lobby pre- and post-concert.

This concert-opera production is directed by Peter Atherton, Chapman’s director of operatic studies in partnership with the College of Performing Arts. Roles (sung in English) are played by: Erin Gonzalez (Chapman alumni) as Hansel; Emma-Grace Dunbar as Gretel; Hannah Kidwell (Chapman student) as the Witch; Alexandra Rupp as Sandman (Chapman student); and Jasmine Rodriguez (Chapman student) as the Dew Fairy. To help tell the story, Maestro Kalia shares narration duties with David Stoneman (Chapman alumni), who also sings the role Hansel and Gretel’s father, Peter. The All-American Boys Chorus and Chapman students sing the Gingerbread Chorus.

“For years, I’ve been wanting to conduct this opera because the music is simply stunning!” says Kalia. “You can hear in the string writing that Humperdinck was influenced by Wagner. It’s heavy, rich and extremely melodic. Humperdinck is a master of lyricism, and one of the most memorable moments in the opera is the children’s evening prayer ‘When at Night I go to Sleep’—a gorgeous duet between Hansel and Gretel. Another memorable moment is the ‘Witch’s Aria,’ which features the Witch singing virtuosic passages that challenge the singer in a variety of ways.  

“I’ll add that the music is also very simple,” Kalia continues. “Humperdinck incorporates folk songs into the opera. You have the simplicity of these folk songs contrasted with the lush orchestration, which is incredibly opulent, as well as transcendental. These moments really carry one away to a whole new world of sound and color.”

For the Symphony’s version of “Hansel and Gretel,” the three-act opera becomes one exciting single act, in which Hansel and his sister, Gretel, are happy but poor and hungry children. Their father, Peter, is a broom maker, whose business is struggling. One day, Hansel and Gretel are at home cleaning and playing to take their mind off their hunger. After a day at work, Peter returns home with food for dinner. Hansel and Gretel’s mother sends Hansel and Gretel into the forest to pick strawberries for dessert. When their father hears where the children have gone, he is very worried—there is a rumor that a witch lives there! The anxious parents set off to find their children.

Meanwhile, deep in the woods, Hansel and Gretel come across a house made of candy, cookies, chocolate and cakes—and they rejoice!—before helping themselves to the sweet treats. Unfortunately, this is the Witch’s house and she catches them and casts a spell, just as she has done with other children! Unfortunately, in luring the children into the house, her intention is to bake them into gingerbread cookies. Spoiler alert: When the witch checks the oven, Hansel and Gretel join forces to push her in and slam the door shut—breaking the witch’s spell! Hansel and Gretel’s parents arrive and the witch is baked into a remarkably tasty cookie!

“The Brothers Grimm fairy tale is very dark,” notes Kalia. “However, the opera is none of that. It’s not a heavy story but rather a fairy tale that everyone can relate to. The singers get to be kids again, and they can relive the fairy tales we all grew up with. If there is a moral to the story, it is that good little children get rewarded and everybody can live happily ever after.”

The original “Hansel and Gretel” is an opera set in Germany by 19th-century composer Humperdinck, who described it as a Märchenoper (fairy tale opera). Humperdinck’s sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel.” It is much admired for its folk-music-inspired themes, one of the most famous being the “Abendsegen” (“Evening Benediction”). The idea for the opera was proposed to Humperdinck by his sister, who approached him about writing music for songs that she had written for her children for Christmas based on “Hansel and Gretel.” After several revisions, the musical sketches and songs were turned into a full-scale opera. Humperdinck composed “Hansel and Gretel” in Frankfurt in 1891-92, and the opera was first performed in Weimar in December 1893, conducted by Richard Strauss.

“What makes the Symphony’s concerts popular is their accessibility,” comments the Symphony’s director of education, Jonathan Terry. “They are familiar stories adapted to young audiences and include interactive experiences both during the concerts as well as the Musical Carnival. The Symphony strives to make the Family Musical Mornings an enjoyable event for families to experience together and bring stories to life through music.”

This concert is generously underwritten by the Honorable H. Warren and Janet Siegel.