June 21, 2021

Matthew Ozawa on Hansel & Gretel in the Park

Hansel & Gretel in the Park is the perfect operatic introduction for everyone. This inventive production — taking place at Chicago's beautiful North Park Nature Center comes to life as audiences travel through the Walking Stick Woods. "Audiences of all ages will connect not only with the characters, but with the magical quality of hearing music while surrounded by trees, birds, and wildlife," said director Matthew Ozawa. "Wonder and imagination will be awakened by the comedy, heart, and whimsy of our production."

Gretel (Soprano Desirée Hassler) and Hansel (mezzo-soprano Corinne Wallace-Crane) perform their chores in the opening scene of Hansel & Gretel in the Park, accompanied by members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra. (Gingerbread Cast)

Ozawa worked closely with set and costume designer Scott Marr to create a delightful production that was as beautiful as it was practical. "This truly has been such a collaborative effort, and every aspect of this new production has been envisioned, created, built, and managed by Lyric Opera. The craftsmanship and artistry are astounding," said Ozawa. "Performing outdoors has meant that our process has had to be extremely malleable, adjusting our designs, staging and instrument placement to accommodate any number of factors from weather to animals." In fact, one of Ozawa's favorite moments occurred when the cast and crew spotted five deer roaming in the forest during a rehearsal!

Gretel (soprano Katelyn Lee) and Hansel (mezzo-soprano Maia Surace) stumble upon a colorful feast in the Witch's gingerbread house. (Cupcake Cast)

This family-friendly opera features two casts — dubbed the Cupcake cast and the Gingerbread cast — starring members of the Lyric Opera Chorus, who are accomplished solo artists. "It has been such a delight to be back together to create live performance," said Ozawa. "The members of the Lyric Opera Chorus who are singing the principal roles are absolutely fabulous, and it has been a joy to feature them as soloists. Everyone has jumped into the creative playground, and we have made such fun discoveries as we translate this opera to this site-specific experience."

Father (baritone Nicholas Ward) and Mother (soprano Kimberly McCord) worry over their children who ventured into the woods. (Gingerbread Cast)

In partnering with the Chicago Park District, we knew that we wanted audiences to experience our new site-specific production by traveling from scene to scene in the woods. To reduce the running time and divide the action into four separate scenes, Matthew Ozawa worked with Lyric's Chorus Master Michael Black, who served as music advisor on this project. Hansel & Gretel in the Park was performed in Sir David Pountney's lively English translation, making it easy for everyone to follow the story.

The Witch (tenor John J. Concepcion) captures Hansel (mezzo-soprano Maia Surace) after he sneaks a snack. (Cupcake Cast)

"There is also something magical about knowing Hansel and Gretel are going through the woods, and the audience is actually following them on their adventures," said Ozawa. "We have a lot of surprises in store for the audience — moments of magic and wonder — and honestly, I'm so excited for audiences to experience this charming fairytale opera!"

Header photo: Father, a broom-maker (bass Kenneth Nichols), returns home with food following a sucessful sale, and celebrates with Mother (mezzo-soprano Pamela Williams). (Cupcake Cast)

All photos: Robert Kusel