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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010 8 years ago

'Hansel and Gretel' adds innocence to opera season

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

Commotion has returned to the Sarasota Opera House. After a three-month hiatus, singers, directors, costume designers, makeup artists and wigmakers are back for the winter opera season, casting a familiar frenzy backstage. No one is more aware of this change than Lance Inouye, the music director and conductor of the Sarasota Youth Opera.

Inouye has spent the last few weeks juggling the schedules of 70 children, half of whom are cast in all four of the opera’s winter productions.

“The whole youth opera is spread out among these four shows,” says Inouye, scanning a detailed printout of his students’ schedules, an exhaustive timetable of rehearsals, costume fittings and makeup appointments. “I can tell you exactly where anyone is at any given time in the day.”

This season is one of the Youth Opera’s biggest and busiest to date. “Pagliacci,” which opened Feb. 6, features 10 children in the chorus. Even more whopping, “Hansel and Gretel,” which opens Feb. 27, includes a cast of 25 frozen gingerbread children, more than triple the size of the average youth opera cast.
“Any season with a show with even 10 kids is huge,” Inouye says.

It’s been nine years since the Sarasota Opera staged Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,” an opera that Inouye says resonates with audiences outside of the usual opera patronage.

It has name recognition, an enchanting gingerbread house and a familiar plot sung in English. Cast as Hansel is mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson, who sang the role of Beppe in last year’s production of “L’amico Fritz,” and singing the role of Gretel is soprano and Sarasota newcomer Angela Mortellaro.

Although both Johnson and Mortellaro are adults playing children, nothing warms an audience more than seeing and hearing actual children on stage, says Inouye.

“It’s such an innocent and heartwarming story,” says Inouye, now in his fifth season with the Sarasota Opera. “From the very beginning it’s about the kids. And all the music is tuneful. It’s an opera you walk away whistling. It’s accessible.”

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]

In addition to preparing for the Sarasota Opera’s winter shows, the entire Sarasota Youth Opera will perform “The Black Spider” May 7 and May 8, at the Sarasota Opera House. Written specifically for children, “The Black Spider” is a fully staged opera by contemporary British composer Judith Weir.

Sarasota Opera’s winter season is already under way with “Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci” and “The Magic Flute” on stage now through March 21. “Hansel and Gretel” opens Feb. 27 and runs through March 13, and “Giovanna d’Arco” (“Joan of Arc”) runs March 6 to March 20. For more information, call 366-8450 or visit

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