SFCM Opera is Back with a Bewitching Tale

SFCM, hansel and Gretel, Opera, voice

Jayne Diliberto, "Gretel" and Alexandra Sanchez, "Hansel" performing on a special larger-than-life set designed by Peter Crompton.

After a long pandemic pause SFCM Opera is back live on stage with the fairy-tale, “Hansel and Gretel.” This unique performance also comes with a special collaboration.

By Mark Taylor

After a grim year off, SFCM Opera is back with a Grimm tale. 

Performers return to the stage this week with the classic fairy-tale, “Hansel and Gretel.” Based on the Grimm Brothers story about two children lost in the woods who encounter a gingerbread house, and villain to boot. It is directed by SFCM Chair of Opera and Musical Theatre professor Heather Mathews and conducted by Curt Pajer

While you may know the tale, this production will be unlike any you've seen before, “Hansel and Gretel set off on a life changing journey because their family is starving. I wanted food to be at the heart of the visual and dramatic focus. Food as comfort, food as energy, food as an evil, and food as home. Every character uses a desire and hunger for food as a defining motivator,” said Heather Mathews. 

The tale stays true to its origin, but there are some surprises, “Marcie Stapp's translation honors not only the origin story from the brothers Grimm but also the original libretto written by (Engelbert) Humperdinck's sister, that allows for a wider amount of dramatic action as some antiquated references are removed,” Mathews added. 

For the performers, the return to the stage has been an exciting experience, “This is a bit sappy, but this production reminded me of why I chose to pursue a career in music in the first place,” said voice student Leora Gilgur, who portrays the younger sibling, “Hansel” in the production. “For a while, I forgot what it was like to collaborate with people that all wanted the same thing. Making music with so many talented individuals is an incredible and humbling experience,” Gilgur added. Alexandra Sanchez also portrays, “Hansel.” 

The older child, “Gretel'' is portrayed by voice students Cassi Gardner and Jayne Diliberto across two nights, “This has been my most challenging role yet in the best way possible. In these two months of preparation, I have learned how to be more comfortable with letting go of my inhibitions in order to really tap into my inner child. This role has required so much introspection and physical stamina and has caused me to strive for a whole new caliber in performance,” Diliberto said.  

This production also comes with a special collaboration between SFCM and the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC), “Being just two blocks from the SFGC, it made perfect sense that we would ask them to collaborate with us. They are such a wonderful organization and the talent level of their young artists is incredible,” said director Heather Mathews. 

Working with SFGC has also been a great experience for performers like Jayne Diliberto, “I feel so grateful to be a part of such a transformational moment in these girls' lives because for most of them, it is their first time performing in a fully staged production. I am so impressed with the girls' level of preparation and their enthusiasm to perform.”

From production to performers all are grateful and eager to return to the live performance stage, something director Mathews hopes the audience takes note of, “I want the audience to leave with their hearts happy. Reminded that an evening of live theatre, of opera, of storytelling is an important part of the human experience,” Mathews said. 

And while the fairy-tale opera may center on two young children, according to Mathews, it is by no means just for kids, “This sublime, rich, timeless music, is for all ages, or even better, it is for the child in all of us.” 

With proof of vaccination you are invited to reserve in person tickets for this performance on Thursday or Friday night at the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall at the Getty center.

All are also invited to watch the livestream performances on Thursday, Nov 18 and Friday, Nov 19 at 7:30pm.

Learn more about studying voice at SFCM.