Keeping stories alive: Voice Program presents modern portrayal of classic ‘Hansel & Gretel’


Fairy tales are a classic for a reason, but a modern retelling helps keep the stories alive for a new generation. 

The Voice Program’s production of Hansel & Gretel is getting its own spin, courtesy of director John Giampietro. Instead of being trapped in a forest, the titular characters are stuck inside an internet virtual reality game. 

Hansel & Gretel will be performed at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 17 at the Performance Pavilion on Pratt.

Sophia Baete, who is portraying the Dew Fairy in the opera, believes it is essential to update the classics to modern times to establish a connection with younger audiences. 

“I think it is incredibly important to open opera up to the natural ebb and flow of modern day society,” Baete said. “This opera has become a true representation of the effects that media and technology have on children today. Personally, it’s been truly fascinating to explore and uncover this modern portrayal of Hansel & Gretel.”

Vocal coach Martin Dubé commended Giampietro for his creative ideas to update operas.

Voice Students Jihyun Choi, as Hansel, and Meredith Wohlgemuth, as Gretel, during a dress rehearsal for Hansel And Gretel on Monday July 12, 2021 in the Performance Pavilion KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“If you always see Carmen or The Marriage of Figaro the same way, why do you want to see it again?” Dubé said. “It’s so interesting to see what the director can get from the same words and how it gets their imagination going. (Giampietro) is unbelievable when he comes up with ideas (that) I didn’t see at all reading the text.”

Updating the opera to reflect the modern day allows for the young artists to pull from their real-life experience for their characters. Meredith Smietana, who is portraying Mutter, is pulling from her experience living in New York City, fueled by fast-paced technology.

“This environment doesn’t always allow for personal connections,” Smietana said. “Whether it’s a subway car full of business people glued to their phones, or a family at a restaurant not engaging in conversation but distracted by their tablets and iPhones. I hope it brings to light how dangerous technology can be for families and how easy it is to lose sight of what is most important.”

Vocal coaches Dubé and Kanae Matsumoto will be playing a four-hand piano duet for the show, meaning they will both be on the same piano playing at the same time. 

Voice program students Meredith Smietana and Junseok Hwang playing mother and father during a dress rehearsal for a production of Hansel and Gretel on Monday July 12, 2021 in the Performance Pavilion KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The two have known each other for over a decade, but two years ago they got the opportunity to play a four-hand piano duet for the Chautauqua Chamber Music Resident Artist Series.  

“It was so easy to play together that we (liken) it (to) M&Ms because like chocolate, it’s sweet and melting (together),” Dubé said. “…We’re lucky to find each other. We’re friends but it could not have been a (better) connection as two pianists. There’s so much listening and so much give and take. Nobody is trying to be on top of each other.”

Usually, Hansel & Gretel is played with a full orchestra. However, due to COVID-19 regulations, that wasn’t possible — so conductor Julius Abrahams found a reduction that called for only a four-hand piano duet.

“The instrumental is very thick, very lush,” Matsumoto said. “If we tried to cover everything, every voice, only with two hands and 10 fingers, it would be (very hard), but we can do it, both of us together.” 

Deeper meanings aside, Dubé hopes the audience leaves appreciating the students’ talent more than anything else.

“There’s so much you can hear through the internet, but feeling the voice right there ringing in front of you, it’s very special,” Dubé said. “I think that’s what people are going to leave with: feeling good about the human voice.” 

Tags : hansel & greteloperaVoice Program

The author Nichole Jiang

Nichole is a rising senior at Penn State University majoring in digital print journalism with a minor in Chinese. At PSU, Nichole served as a web writer for Valley Magazine and is currently an editor and writer for College Magazine. As a first-timer at Chautauqua, Nichole is excited to be working with the Daily and experiencing everything the area has to offer. Nichole loves going to the beach and trying out new recipes.