November 9, 1998
Photo courtesy of the UW School of Music
Gingerbread children played by the members of the Northshore Children's Chorus, and the wicked Witch in Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" receive directions from stage director Claudia Zahn.
by Deborah Stone
Twelve elementary students from two Northshore schools will participate in a full-scale professional opera production. The opera "Hansel and Gretel," composed in 1893 by Engelbert Humperdinck, will be performed at Meany Theater on the University of Washington campus in Seattle.
Under the baton of the UW School of Music's Maestro Peter Eros and directed by Claudia Zahn, "Hansel and Gretel" is a joint production of the UW schools of Music and Drama.
The Children's Chorus, directed by Patty Bourne, music specialist at Canyon Creek Elementary School, is comprised of children from Canyon Creek and Maywood Hills elementaries.
The chorus includes Julie Bourne, Taylor Bolibol, Andrew Nelson, Katherine Bourne, Joel Harrington, Samantha McDowell, David Hamilton, Daniel Wright, Erica Smith, Karylin Koughan, Matt Workhoven and Kailey Kimball.
This is the second time students from these schools have been involved in the UW's opera productions. Last May, several students performed in "Falstaff" at Meany Hall. The invitation to participate again was influenced by their performances both on and off the stage last May.
Bourne, a nineteen-year veteran music teacher (whose two daughters, Katherine, grade three and Julie, grade one are a part of the chorus), feels that this experience is very powerful for the children.
She says, "It opens up a brand new world for them, and they need to learn a totally different type of self-control to deal with adult expectations. They have to monitor their own level of focus and playfulness and understand the professionalism behind such an endeavor."
According to Bourne, the children are doing well and their voices get stronger with each rehearsal, but most importantly, they are stronger as a group.
"The group cohesiveness increases with time, and the kids now think of themselves as one big family," explains Bourne. "They realize they must each stay committed to their responsibilities so as to not let the group down."
Along with certain standards from the opera's director, the children chosen had to meet Bourne's own criteria. They had to be able to sing, focus well, deal with distractions and have parents who were supportive of the endeavor, since the rehearsal time commitment is demanding.
Marie McDowell, mother of Canyon Creek fourth grader Samantha McDowell, was delighted when her daughter was invited to participate.
"This has been a wonderful experience for Samantha," says McDowell. "She's loved every minute of it because although it's hard work and serious business, Patti and all the others involved at the U have made it fun. The director and maestro are great with the kids, and the UW students are so supportive of them."
Samantha's highlight has been working with the adults at the UW.
"It's been great to hear what professional voices sound like and it's what I hope to sound like when I'm older," says Samantha. "It's been a special experience and Mrs. Bourne makes it really fun!"
Melanie Workhoven, mother of Matthew Workhoven, a sixth grader at Canyon Creek, echoes McDowell's sentiments.
"This has been a fabulous experience for Matt because it's shown him how quality performances come together," comments Workhoven. "It's a unique opportunity for an eleven year old to be able to sing with lead characters and be accompanied by an eighty-five piece orchestra. I also think it's been important for him to work with adult students and see that adults keep learning throughout their lives."
Workhoven feels that doing stage work boosts the kids' self-confidence and poise and can help them now and in the future.
For Matt, this was his first experience as part of an opera, but he is no stranger to acting.
"I've done some voice-overs and commercials and I really like to sing," says Matt. "This has been a challenging experience for me and it's taken lots of time, but it's really worth it. I like the songs and the costumes. It will be exciting when the performances begin."
The children also have actual roles in the opera and will be seen and heard as turn-of-the-century New York-vintage children, angels and gingerbread people.
They have numerous technical demands on them including various changes of costume and many technically choreographed movements.
"Doing something like this just reminds everyone that kids can rise to high expectations when given support and encouragement," says Bourne. "They are ordinary children doing extraordinary things."
Performances of "Hansel and Gretel" will be held Nov. 9, 11, 13 and 14.
Tickets are available by calling the Meany Hall Theatre Box Office at 206-543-4880.