Operas are not a common event on Radford University’s campus. In fact, going to the opera was a pastime much more prominent in the early 20th century than it is today. Operas were also much more popular in other countries, like England and Italy, than they ever were in the U.S. RU got a taste of this rare art when the College of Visual and Performing Arts partnered with the Department of Dance to present Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.
I’ll be honest; I was pretty skeptical as I entered Bondurant Auditorium last Tuesday for the show. I’d never been to an opera before and wasn’t sure what to expect. As I sat in the audience waiting for the show to start, I listened to the people around me and noticed that most of them were thinking the same thing. Once the show got going though, all of my skeptical thoughts evaporated.
The show opened with the Bugs Bunny cartoon version of Hansel and Gretel being projected onto the backgroud screen. The characters stood on the stage completley frozen as the audience watched the cartoon. Once the cartoon finished the stage illuminated with red and the show began.
Dancers all dressed in black began to dance a coordinated, ballet-style dance, using brooms and props as Hansel and Gretel sat on the side of the stage. When the dancers were finished, Hansel and Gretel began their first operatic song.
What was most interesting about the performance was that the words to each song were projected on the screen at the back of the stage. This helped the audience to know what was going on even when we couldn’t understand what the actors were singing, but it also worked against the actors in the rare event that it was obvious if they forgot or messed up the words.
The theater department took some creative liberties in making a well-known classic their own, and it definitely helped to keep the audiences’ attention. For example, the mother — instead of drinking tea — was sipping out of a Jaegermeister bottle as she sang with her husband about the hardships of life.
The most impressive thing about the show, however, was the collaboration between so many different RU departments. The dance department played a huge role in the show. The dancers formed the metaphorical windows and doors of the witch’s magical candy cottage, into which Hansel and Gretel are lured.
During the scene where Gretel tricks the witch to fall into the oven, the RU dancers formed an oven by waving big orange cloths. When the witch fell, they quickly circled around her and wrapped her up to symbolize that she had caught on fire. The ideas and collaborations were incredibly creative and were successful at holding the attention of the audience.
At the end of the show, the classic Looney Toons ending “That’s All Folks!” appeared where the words had been screening. The opera had so much imagination and hard work that, when combined, it made for a fantastic performance.