Every University of Kentucky Opera production has
two casts. The main reasons are the UK voice program wants to give stage experience to as many students as possible,
and the opera company schedules its performances on back-to-back nights.
Performing many operatic roles two consecutive nights would be a voice killer,
somewhat akin to asking the
So, since UK Opera doubles up, a lot of opera goers end up seeing a different cast from many of their friends, and only one of the casts gets reviewed for the paper. We think UK Opera is worth reviewing because of the generally high quality of its productions and its status, without a pro opera troupe here, as Lexington’s de facto opera company. With adult tickets going for more than $30, they're also charging real money to get in, which obligates the company to perform at a certain standard. But, with limited resources of time and space, plus a desire to get you a timely review, we usually only review the opening night cast. (And when you're talking about one of these gut-wrenching Puccini or Verdi operas, you can only take it once a season or so.)
Sometimes I do see both casts though, and it’s always interesting to see how different performers interpret the same roles and music. Such was the case this weekend when after having reviewed the “Hansel” cast of Hansel and Gretel the previous weekend I ended up in the Lexington Opera House Saturday night seeing the “Gretel” cast. This happened through a combination of my daughter receiving a free ticket to the show through her school and my lovely bride being cool to the idea of venturing out to drive on ice and in sub-freezing temperatures.
The affirming thing was the other cast did not alter my overall upbeat assessment of the show. But stage director Sally Stunkel did allow the actors latitude to do their own interpretations of the characters, which gave us different views of the show. The biggest alteration came in the role of the Witch. In the Hansel cast, Mark Kano played up the clownishness of his dude-looks-like-a-lady assignment to steal the show. Gretel cast Witch Natalie Krupansky had more of a psycho take. There was never a hint of safety in her wild-eyed performance.
As the title siblings, Sarah Klopfenstein and Colleen Lauve of the Gretel cast seemed like a slightly more sophisticated, older take on the kids than the Hansel cast’s Brandy Lynn Hawkins and Amanda Balltrip. But the primary difference there was in voice: Hawkins and Balltrip are simply two of the strongest voices at UK, and hearing them unite provided some thrills. Speaking of vocal thrills, Eric Brown sang the role of the Father in the Gretel cast.
Was either cast appreciably better? That’s somewhat in the eye of the beholder.
But the third reason UK double casts is it can. The voice department is fully capable of fielding two casts for the same show, and the winners are local opera fans, particularly ones looking to get two-for-one on each show.