May 17, 2021

Scott Marr on the magical world of Hansel & Gretel in the Park

Step inside a world of candy covered cottages and wicked witches with an immersive production of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, coming to North Park Village Nature Center this May and June! Lyric's abbreviated English-language production opens Memorial Day weekend and is an engaging adventure for the whole family. In this interview, set and costume designer Scott Marr shares his unique vision for this poignant opera.

What inspired the design of Hansel & Gretel in the Park?

"We began looking at outdoor art sculptural installations, both static and interactive. We looked at classic storybook references and illustrations as well as children's drawings. It was important to Director Matthew Ozawa that we take the audience on a journey and make that a part of how the story evolves. Matthew spoke passionately about hunger and how it is central to the story of Hansel and Gretel. We discussed all the barriers that exist for those who are hungry and less privileged. It goes without mentioning the barriers of Covid, too, and how that has affected all of us in different ways. Matthew made reference to the tent camps at the Border Wall and what the children were going through in those places. That triggered something in me. I began looking at structures of the Border Walls — images of families and children gathering there to meet their loved ones on the other side — and exploring the artwork and murals that people were creating on the walls. That gave way to the structure and look of the set design, which features four murals painted on steel."

A painted mural depicting the Witch's house in Hansel & Gretel in the Park.

What adjustments had to be made to bring this opera to life in a public park?

"We have this opportunity to celebrate the beautiful moments when art meets nature. Each scene is designed with some flexibility and how we place the scenic elements will more than likely have to be adjusted from location to location. There are open areas in the scenic elements that allow the viewer to see the park beyond. It is part of the look — a play on what is inside and outside. This production is essentially an art installation that comes to life with the musicians and singing artists."

A design sketch, showing the see-through set pieces that make up the forest in Hansel & Gretel in the Park.

How would you describe the costumes for this production?

"The costumes also exemplify the journey we go on as an audience. They reflect the difference between those who are hungry, impoverished, and underprivileged like Hansel and Gretel in contrast to the temptation of the Witch — those who seem to have every material thing they desire. We move from a basic, simple, earthy look for Hansel, Gretel, Mother, and Father to an explosion of color and haute couture culture for the Witch. The Sandman and Dew Fairy are more "fantastical." Since the role of Hansel is sung by a woman, there is a non binary look for the siblings. There is also a sense of gender fluidity in the fashion for the Sandman, who is sung by a woman; and the Witch, who is sung by a man.

Overall, I wanted the costumes to feel magical and, in a sense, captivating. I was influenced by modern-day street wear, boho, goth, punk wave, steampunk, 17th- and 18th-century fashion, and haute couture to create the looks. For me, it was more about creating looks that fit the characters as well as the actual singers themselves. To start, I began creating the costume looks through a mix of specially chosen stock pieces and purchased items. The more specific fantastical costume pieces have been built by our very talented Costume Shop at Lyric, headed by Maureen Reilly and Lucy Lindquist. Matthew [Ozawa] inspired me with the idea that the Sandman represents night and the Dew Fairy represents day. The colors of those two costumes reflect that idea. Another important influence to the look of the costumes will be the wigs created by our Wig Department, led by Wigmaster Sarah Hatten.

While our take on Hansel and Gretel has an edge of serious reality, we have also worked to create many fitting moments of whimsy. Our hope is that the look of the production will be appealing to everyone."

Scott Marr's costume sketches for the Witch, Dew Fairy, Hansel, and Gretel.

Hansel & Gretel in the Park takes place at Chicago's beautiful North Park Village Nature Center, May 27-June 17. Featuring members of the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra, this whimsical story is the perfect introduction to opera for families with kids of all ages. Advance tickets for Hansel & Gretel in the Park are sold out, but a limited number of walk-up tickets may be available.

All photos courtesy of Scott Marr