Londoners are blessed to have Canada’s premier post-secondary opera training faculty: the Don Wright Faculty of Music at Western University.
Under the guidance of Stage Director Ted Baerg and Musical Director Alain Trudel, the faculty offers opportunities to experience some of the world’s best-known operas, performed by the stars of tomorrow.
The recent production of family-favourite Hansel and Gretel was outstanding. The familiar tale of the brother and sister who wander off into the forest in search of sustenance in the form of sweets, encountering an evil witch along the way, was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish and the standing ovation the performers and musicians received at its conclusion was genuine and well deserved.
Since Ted Baerg, who has 40 years of professional operatic productions under his belt, established the UWOpera program in 1996, it has grown significantly, becoming for many Londoners the city’s unofficial Opera Company.
“I was engaged to enable growth in the opera and vocal area at the Faculty of Music,” says Baerg. “In that first year we did one production and I double cast for the first time.”
Hansel and Gretel is no exception to the rule, boasting a double cast of eager young, and very talented, opera aspirants. In the performance I attended, Gabrielle French played Hansel, Caroline Gleason-Mercier was a very playful Gretel, and Stephanie O’Leary was fantastic as the Witch. (For those new to opera, the roles of Hansel and Gretel are traditionally played by two female actors/singers.)
The Sunday afternoon performance was packed with opera enthusiasts of all ages, including many families, and they were not disappointed this day. There was not a weak link to be found anywhere in this production. The leads were outstanding and actually looked like young children. I have to admit that when I have seen grown women playing the title roles in previous productions, it was a tad distracting.
Alain Trudel was thrilled with season opener. “Both casts were of equal value technically and artistically and the orchestra came through with flying colours,” said Trudel in a post-show interview.
“It’s very exciting to be working with such talented young people,” continues Trudel. “They are the artists I will be looking at to fill our professional concerts. It’s teaching, yes, but it’s also scouting.”
Next up for UWOpera is Verdi’s Falstaff, which Trudel calls one of the “hardest and most fun” productions in the opera canon. Based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, the production runs from January 29 to February 7, 2016 at the Paul Davenport Theatre.
Something tells me that the UWOpera double cast and musicians will be more than up to the task!
Rick Young is one of eatdrink magazine’s Arts & Culture writers. He was the managing editor of The Beat Magazine from 2009 to 2014. He also loves opera!