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Release: April 7, 2000

UI Opera Theater will present popular fairy-tale opera, ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ April 28 & 30

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- "Hansel and Gretel," one of the most familiar European fairy tales, will be the spring production of the University of Iowa Opera Theater, in a popular operatic version by late 19th-century German composer Engelbert Humperdinck. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Friday, April 28, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30, in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.

"Hansel and Gretel" will be the first large-scale production to be directed by Sally Stunkel, who became director of the UI Opera Theater last fall. Performances will feature the University Symphony under the direction of William LaRue Jones. Set design is by Margaret Wenk of the UI Performing Arts Production Unit.

Major roles in the opera will be taken by students in the School of Music. Additional children’s roles in the opera will be sung by members of the Children’s Choir of Willowwind School in Iowa City, directed by Nancy Macfarlane.

As told by the Brothers Grimm, "Hansel and Gretel" has become one of the most familiar fairy tales. As most children know, the brother and sister Hansel and Gretel live deep in the forest. When their mother sends them out to pick strawberries, they stay too long and lose their way. They are forced to spend the night deep in the forest. The next day they stumble on the witch’s gingerbread house and almost end up being baked into cookies. Instead, they are smart enough to foil the witch, and in destroying her they save all the other children she has stolen over the years.

"Hansel and Gretel" was turned into an opera by Engelbert Humperdinck, a disciple of Richard Wagner. In 1890 Humperdinck’s sister sent him some verses she had written for the Grimm bothers’ fairy tale, which Humperdinck began to set in the style of German folk melodies. Encouraged by the success of these simple songs, Humperdinck decided to write a fairy-tale "Singspiel" -- a kind of musical comedy with spoken dialog between the musical numbers. By the time he completed the score, it had grown into a full-fledged operatic setting, with the folk-style melodies enhanced by a rich orchestral texture.

"Hansel and Gretel" was premiered in Weimar, Germany, on Dec. 23, 1893, with Richard Strauss conducting. It was an immediate hit and has remained especially popular in Germany, where it is a staple of the holiday season for most opera companies. The tuneful melodies and charming story have made "Hansel and Gretel" popular around the world, and the children’s evening prayer from Act II has become one of the most familiar and beloved pieces of classical music.

In the all-student cast, the roles of Hansel and Gretel will be taken by Ann Cravero and Maria Gimenez. The mother and father will be sung by Virginia Croskery and Michael Shelledy. Oliver Stoutner will portray the witch. Emeline Fitzmorris will sing the part of the Sandman, and Stephanie Thorpe will be the Dew Fairy.

Stunkel was appointed director of UI Opera Theater in the fall of 1999. She has directed for many American opera companies, including Sacramento Opera, Tulsa Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Skylight Opera, the Aspen Music Festival, Kentucky Opera and Four Corners Opera. She has more than 70 productions to her credit, including straight theater as well as opera. She headed the opera programs at the former St. Louis Conservatory of Music, the University of Tennessee and the University of the Pacific in California.

Stunkel has performed both as an opera singer, performing with the Colorado Springs Opera, Skylight Opera and Baltimore Opera, and as an actor in spoken plays, having recently portrayed Amanda in "The Glass Menagerie" and Eleanor of Aquitaine in "The Lion in Winter." With more than 15 years of dance training, she has also choreographed several productions.

Known for her expertise in teaching acting to opera singers, Stunkel has taught in the apprentice programs at the Des Moines Metro Opera, Chatauqua Opera, the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada and the Aspen Music Festival. She was a co-founder/director/writer for The Opera Parade and Kinderopera, two touring educational opera companies for children in Maryland. She is a graduate of the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, where she received the National Opera Association’s award for best opera for her productions of Gian Carlo Menotti’s "The Consul" and Domonick Argento’s "Postcard from Morocco."

A UI music alumnus, Jones joined the faculty of the School of Music in 1997 as director of the University Symphony and director of orchestral studies. He replaced James Dixon, the director of the orchestra for more than 40 years, who retired at the end of the 1996-97 academic year. Prior to joining the UI faculty, Jones was the founding music director/administrator of the internationally recognized Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.

Jones is a highly honored musician, having received the Twin Cities Mayors' Public Art Award, the American String Teachers Association Exceptional Leadership and Merit Award and the David W. Preuss Leadership Award. He has also been selected Musician of the Year by Sigma Alpha Iota , a music honorary society. He has appeared as a guest conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Sinfonie Orchester AML-Luzern (Switzerland) and other orchestras around the world.

Tickets for "Hansel and Gretel" are $15, $10 and $8 ($9, $7 and $5 for senior citizens, UI students and youth) from the Hancher Auditorium box office.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area dial 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

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