For Chapman University Professor Peter Atherton, DMA, fairy tales are a very serious endeavor. Especially when they’ve inspired operas that can be adapted and performed for very young audiences.
That’s exactly what Atherton has been doing with Pacific Symphony’s Family Musical Mornings, where he’s been the director and scriptwriter for numerous operas, including most recently Hansel and Gretel, composed by 19th-century composer Engelbert Humperdinck. (Yes, that 1970s British balladeer borrowed the name from the old fellow.)
Such performances are like magic seeds that can help plant in young listeners a lifelong love of opera, Atherton says.
“It’s vital in terms of developing an audience base and a support base here, where opera’s not really state-supported the way it is in Europe,” he says.
In conjunction with the INTERPLAY Festival, a version of the opera will be performed in collaboration with Pacific Symphony on campus Friday, Feb. 10, at noon in Salmon Recital Hall. Admission is free.
This marks the fifth year Atherton has directed the operas at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Through the years the performances have doubled as a professional training ground for numerous students from the College of Performing Arts. Most roles, including the leads, are sung by Opera Chapman students, all selected after rigorous auditions with Pacific Symphony.
“It’s really a great opportunity for the Chapman students who are ready for the next step of doing something on this scale in a big venue,” Atherton says. “It’s very intense.”
Part of his task each year is to work with Susan Kotses, vice president of education and community engagement, in the taming of the scripts and story lines. For example, Mozart’s Elixir of Love became The Magic Potion, and some of the extreme drama in Hansel and Gretel was tempered with gentler story lines.
It’s a collaboration Kotses relishes.
“One of my personal favorite parts of my job is co-writing the scripts with Peter each year. Despite his incredibly busy schedule at Chapman, he always makes time for our productions, even if that means having a script-writing meeting over a pizza after a long day of teaching at Chapman,” she says.
Best of all, audience approval is high.
“Each year, our opera for kids has the highest approval rating of any of our Family Concerts,” she says. “So we know that the experience is meaningful to our audiences.”
Display image at top/Soprano Jasmine Rodriguez ’18 in the role of the Dew Fairy in Pacific Symphony production of Hansel and Gretel, (Photo courtesy of Pacific Symphony.)