An Opera for Kids?! Inside the OrKidstra Performance

On Oct. 19 and 26, the University of Redlands held a performance of Engelbert Humperdink’s 1893 opera “Hansel and Gretel” based on the German fairy tale of the same name collected by the Brothers Grimm. But, there’s a twist. It was performed for an audience of elementary schoolchildren! 

OrKidstra is a free-of-charge program hosted by the Redlands Symphony every year at the Memorial Chapel. In the past, they have done “The Carnival of the Animals” (1922) by Camille Saint-Saëns and “Peter and the Wolf” (1936) by Sergei Prokofiev, among others. OrKidstra is meant to be an introduction for fourth and fifth graders to aspects of classical music, such as how orchestras sound, or how different instruments interact with each other within the confines of the orchestra. 

This year the performance was of “Hansel and Gretel,” but considering the audience, the performance was reduced from around an hour and forty-five minutes to approximately 40 minutes. There were also many different pieces of the story that were omitted from the performance because they were not age-appropriate. According to the director Co Nguyen, the reasons behind this were, “Because we were putting this on for children, this is all they can deal with. They can’t sit through the whole thing, so we just do the highlights. This was actually the first time we introduced opera.” However, even with the edits, the audience enjoyed the performance immensely. 

Hansel and Gretel.

One universally loved character from the performance was the Witch. Played by Nick Ahmed ‘24, the character was brought to life to the delight of the audience. The character’s voice was high-pitched and was prone to long flights of whimsical vocalizations while they ran and jumped around the stage. The Witch dazzled the audience by interacting directly with the audience, pointing their wand and even running into the crowd and playing with the kids singing all the while. 

The Witch casts a spell on Hansel and Gretel.

The orchestra played through the program twice on both days the kids came to the chapel. The actor for Hansel, Ray Coacher ‘23, commented, “It’s nice to do the first performance with kids, since it doesn’t feel so serious and it’s just about enjoying it.”

A performance of this scale was not without its share of issues. Some of those issues included timing, working with the actors, and even translating the opera from its original German. “Another difficulty was the parts, since all the parts are in German, but the singers speak it in English, and sometimes the English translation really doesn’t match what’s on the page… Another difficulty was timing, since in a traditional opera setup they would be facing the orchestra the entire time, but with the way we did it they didn’t have that opportunity, so that was hard.”

Even with the difficulties surrounding putting on a production of this scale for a younger audience, the Orchestra pulled off a spectacular performance, and the kids, the main focus of the event, loved it tremendously. The orchestra will be doing the same program again in February of next year, so if you missed this round, don’t worry, it’ll be back soon!

Hansel and Gretel reunite with their parents.

Photos by Lane Eppenberger.

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