Monday, January 4, 2010

Like the Smell of Crayons

HANSEL AND GRETEL: An Opera FantasyDo you remember the first time you caught a whiff of a box of crayons or a lump of Play-Doh as an adult? For me, it brought back a flood of feelings and memories—feelings of familiarity, warmth, safety, images of the stack of coloring books on a shelf in the sunroom, the kitchen table covered with bits of Play-Doh and plastic tools for working with it and molding it, and the dreams I dreamed while I colored and drew and shaped things with my hands.

Well, I had the same experience with an opera. When I was a kid, my musician-parents made a real effort to bring my sister and me along with them to many of their jobs. We accompanied them at various times to all kinds of rehearsals, dress rehearsals and performances. It was something I enjoyed a lot, especially the operas and ballets, but it was also just a way of life. I never considered that maybe this was an unusual way to grow up.

Then as an adult one summer, I played in the pit orchestra for Engelbert Humperdink’s “Hansel and Gretel”. I hadn’t thought about or heard the opera for years, but it was one that my parents played and brought us to a number of years in a row. And it was like that first adult whiff of a box of crayons. So many emotions and images came flooding back, old and forgotten but familiar. Not only that, but I finally understood why my response to the music of Wagner, Mahler and Bruckner was, “I knew this stuff existed!” Humperdink’s music is very similar, and there’s no doubt it informed my musical tastes.

I think this is a great introduction to opera for kids. The story is familiar (but some productions can be very dark, I would caution you to preview this if you can), the music is fantastic, and the words are often sung in English instead of German. We don’t live in a big city any more, and opportunities to take my own children to things like this are limited. But with the help of Interlibrary Loan and our university library, I am working to give them a similar experience to the one I had. Maybe someday they’ll have that “box of crayons” moment themselves.


  1. Ok, give us 'ignorant' mommas a nice list and where you got them! :) (since we didn't all grow up that way! And anytime you want lessons on milking cows or gathering eggs or butchering chickens, we can trade some info! lol)

  2. It takes all kinds of mommas, doesn't it? You listed three things I've never done before--I've got a pretty long list of things I'm ignorant of myself. I'm sort of using this blog as the list. My grand plan is that once I've got a few things like this researched I can have put some lists in the sidebar. But it's a slow process--there's so much stuff out there!

    I searched for DVDs of Hansel and Gretel at our university library and Amazon, and found a number of different versions. The reviews at Amazon can be pretty helpful--several people commented on the darkness of a recent production. The university library in town has an older version in German with English subtitles, but I haven't watched it. The link above is for a Grammy-winning version from the 50's done with stop-action animation. Both use the opera score by Humperdink, though.

  3. Looking forward to the list, Karen! :) I do think it's fascinating how it 'takes all kinds'--in parenting, in the church body, in our home education circles. How fun it is to learn from one another and provide a variety of opportunities for our children.


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