The Washington National Opera performed “Hansel and Gretel” for elementary school students Nov. 30 at the Delaware Tech theater in Georgetown. In coordination with the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, the Washington National Opera came to Sussex County to teach young students about the technical aspects of opera.
Peter Joshua Burroughs, an educator and singer for the Washington National Opera, said, “We’re doing an interactive workshop that’s going to teach [the students] about sequencing events in the story.” He said this includes getting the children to identify characters and character traits through music and costumes.
Burroughs was joined by several performers from the Damingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program. Julia Mintzer and Shantelle Przybylo (mezzo-soprano and soprano) lent their voices to the show, while Artem Grishaev provided the music on piano.
“Frequently we have the kids playing all of the parts and listening to recordings, so when we can have live singers and a live pianist it teaches even more,” Burroughs said.
Burroughs began the demonstration by teaching the children the difference between “bravo,” “brava” and “bravi.” Bravo is how the audience tells a male opera singer “well done,” brava means the same, but for a woman, and bravi refers to two or more performers. With this knowledge in hand, the children were able to applaud the performers like true aficionados.
After Mintzer, Przybylo and Grishaev were introduced, Burroughs invited several volunteers from the audience onstage to try on some outfits. He encouraged the children to select what they thought represented the characters they were to portray. They donned capes and vests to become Hansel, Gretel, the father and the witch.
Burroughs walked them through the essential moments of the play, encouraging them with simple lines of song such as “Brother, come and dance with me,” for Gretel and “Nibbly cribbly mousey is nibbling on my housey,” for the witch.
After the rough run-through with the student volunteers, Burroughs and the others preformed the opera in its entirety and opened the floor to questions, when the children were able to sate their curiosity about the performers on stage.
The students were enthused to interact with a medium which is becoming less and less a means of entertainment in current culture. Television and video games have given people the ability to be entertained without leaving their houses, but it is good to see young minds being opened to the possibilities of the performing arts.