Arts and Entertainment

Wunderbar! BPA bring modern twist to opera 'Hänsel and Gretel'

Marie Sinclair-Bennett plays the witch. Dances for the opera were choreographed with help from the Bainbridge Dance Center. - Photo courtesy of BPA
Marie Sinclair-Bennett plays the witch. Dances for the opera were choreographed with help from the Bainbridge Dance Center.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of BPA

Lisa Mandelkorn has many memories touring as a New York opera singer.

One that particularly stands out is a performance of “Hänsel and Gretel.”

“It was the most fun for me. I got to play with all the kids, and it was the sweetest community feeling,” she said. “It became this thing people looked forward to every year.”

Mandelkorn toured as an opera singer and performed in the “Hänsel and Gretel” opera in Washington, D.C. for five years throughout the 1990s, before moving back to her Northwest roots.

Now living on Bainbridge with children of her own, she wants to establish the same memory-making tradition on the island.

“When I moved here and had my own kids, I was thinking of a way to get myself back into singing,” she said. “My daughter and my son started doing theater at Bainbridge Performing Arts, and it felt like it had the same potential for the same yearly excitement.”

She floated the idea to theater managers and they loved it. Running from Dec. 7 through Dec. 23, Bainbridge Performing Arts will present the opera of “Hänsel and Gretel” at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Putting the production together wasn’t as easy as getting it approved.

Mandelkorn originally preferred to do each performance with a live orchestra. The task proved to be expensive and difficult. Instead, the opera singer went into a studio with conductor Kim Allen Kluge and an orchestra. They recorded an original soundtrack for the opera.

The production’s originality didn’t end there. The opera of “Hänsel and Gretel” was originally written in German by Engelbert Humperdinck, a 19th century composer.

To use one of the few English translations provided the same expensive hurdle as the orchestra, so Mandelkorn reached deep down into her opera skills to pull off another treat for the project.

“I said I would translate it and they looked at me like I was crazy,” Mandelkorn said.

“I translated the whole thing from German. It took three months to do.”

As a trained opera singer Mandelkorn can sing fluently in Italian, German and French, so the translation became a natural extension of her talent.

“I have to say, translating it is the easiest part,” Mandelkorn said. “The hard part is keeping in the rhythm and to be funny.”

Then there was casting the production; the opera uses 30 children in the show. Mandelkorn also partnered with the Bainbridge Dance Center to choreograph the movement.

She noted that the production will come as a surprise to some. It will be entertaining for the entire family, she said, and with a little original, modern touch.

“In order to make the kids even more prevalent than they usually are, I created a big opening scene that is usually just Hänsel and Gretel,” Mandelkorn said. “The kids all do the dance with us and it’s like a big square dance.”

“Then I added an extra scene for the dancers as well that was not originally written,” she added.

“I added a lot of crazy cat lady language to the witch’s part — there was a reference to ‘cat and mouse’ in the German (version) that I expanded on — and then created a dance segment for the dancers as cats in the third act.”

It was a lot of work, but for Mandelkorn, the result is a pleasure — one that she hopes will continue on Bainbridge Island every year.

“We intend to make it a consistent holiday tradition,” she said.

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