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Delfs brings holiday tradition of 'Hansel and Gretel' to RPO


Music Director Andreas Delfs and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra bring fairy-tale magic to Rochester with their second performance of “Hansel and Gretel” on Saturday, Nov. 20, at Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall.

It takes a bit of imagination to picture the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director Andreas Delfs, as a little kid. But travel back a bit more than a half century, and he was a little boy in Germany, just five years old, attending his first opera. It was then that he got caught up in the magic of a fairy tale — Grimms' “Hansel and Gretel,” with music by Romantic composer Engelbert Humperdinck.

Delfs Hansel
Jacob Walsh/CITY
The RPO's Andreas Delfs has considerable experience as a music director of opera companies in Europe, and will bring that experience to a semi-staged version of "Hansel and Gretel" on Nov. 20.

Delfs clearly recalls that moment: “The thrill when the lights went out. And when the overtures started.”

He has heard and conducted many operatic and orchestral performances in the years since then, but he says he finds “Hansel and Gretel” just as exciting today, 55 years later.

Delfs and the RPO bring that excitement to Rochester with their second performance of “Hansel and Gretel” on Saturday, Nov. 20, at Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall.

There's an element of magic in “Hansel and Gretel,” a sort of spooky otherworldliness that was a common theme in early 19th century German musical theatre, and still casts its spell today.

“When the holiday season starts, every little city, every theater, every amateur group puts up Hansel and Gretel,” Delfs says of the German Christmas tradition, which is similar to American holiday ritual of performing Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker.”

“I was reminded that showing you my holiday tradition would be a nice idea,” Delfs says.

The RPO production is in English, and “semi-staged.” That means limited sets and costumes, as the singers perform on stage with the orchestra.

To evoke more of the imaginative story with this limited setting, stage director Grant Preisser has cast the entire drama as a dream, simplifying the action to focus on the music and the relationship that connects the brother and sister. He was inspired in part by his experience growing up with five siblings, something that he says took time to appreciate.

Hansel and Gretel
From left, Rachele Gilmore (Gretel), Stephen Powell (Father), Katherine Ciesinski (Mother), and Reilly Nelson (Hansel) rehearse the RPO's "Hansel and Gretel."

“They protect each other, and they support each other, as often as they’re like, teaching each other and poking fun at each other,” Preisser says of the opera’s siblings Hansel and Gretel. “But at the end, they survive, because they are a team, and they complement each other really, really well. And that’s just beautiful storytelling.”

Delfs and the RPO perform “Hansel and Gretel” — along with singers Reilly Nelson, Rachele Gilmore, Stephen Powell, Katherine Ciesinski, Catherine Martin, and Jasmine Habersham — on Saturday, Nov. 20, at 8 p.m., at Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall, 60 Gibbs St. $30-$78. Proof of vaccination, IDs, and masks required. 585-454-2100. rpo.org. Hear more from the cast and crew of "Hansel and Gretel" in an On Record interview with WXXI’s Julia Figueras.

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