You can see and hear the soprano, a distinguished alum of Seattle Opera’s Young Artist Program, in Seattle Opera’s “Hansel and Gretel,” opening Oct. 15. You may remember her from “Ariadne auf Naxos,” “Turandot” and “The Consul.”
Growing up in a Chicago suburb, soprano Marcy Stonikas was more musically active than the average American teen. She played in the high-school band, attended symphony concerts regularly, sang jazz and took part in musicals.
But it was only after she’d arrived at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1998 that she actually experienced her first live opera.
“I suddenly saw myself onstage,” she recalls. The artist playing a tragic young woman in Carlisle Floyd’s debut opera, “Slow Dusk,” “looked and sounded exactly like me.”
‘Hansel and Gretel’
by Engelbert Humperdinck. Opens 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, and runs through Oct. 30. McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; tickets from $25 (206-389-7676 or seattleopera.org).
That revelation triggered a lengthy process for Stonikas to find her voice as an opera singer and actress.
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This month, Stoniaks returns to the Seattle Opera stage for its first production of German composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” in nearly a quarter-century. She plays the role of the children’s mother, Gertrude.
Stonikas’ relationship with Seattle Opera began in 2009, when she was accepted into the Young Artists program (YAP). “People usually think of it as a training program, but it was a lot more than that,” she explained during a break in rehearsal.
“Before then, I already knew that my vocal technique was solid,” she said. But opera companies remained unwilling to take a risk on an unknown singer.
Bridging a way into the professional opera world is a key mission of young artist programs, and Stonikas remained in the YAP for two seasons. (Seattle’s YAP was discontinued in 2013 for financial reasons.)
As a YAP alum, she performed on the main stage in the alternate casts of Seattle Opera’s “Turandot,” “Fidelio” and “The Consul,” and in 2015 performed a role in the alternate cast she knows well: Ariadne in “Naxos auf Ariadne,” a role she owned in the YAP production of 2010. “Most definitely, this is a singer with a big future,” wrote a Seattle Times reviewer of the YAP production.
“There’s a new generation of opera singers that are expected to be actors, and Peter was phenomenal in getting you to act what you are singing,” Stonikas said. “You had to know exactly what the words are saying, in the most intimate detail of the moment and in the grand scheme.”
Now based in Seattle, Stonikas is married to actor Brian David Simmons (currently in Steven Dietz’s “On Clover Road” at Seattle Public Theater).
She’s also performed with the Seattle Symphony, Cincinnati Opera, Utah Opera and San Antonio Symphony.
Stonikas savors the musical and dramatic layering of “Hansel and Gretel,” written by a follower of “Ring” cycle composer Richard Wagner.
If the title suggests something merely lightweight and meant only for youngsters, you’re in for a big surprise with this production, originally created for the U.K.’s Glyndebourne Festival by Parisian director Laurent Pelly.
Emphasizing the role of the poverty that drives the story, Pelly’s vision of the fairy-tale is a thought-provoking reflection on the costs of consumerism.
Stonikas thinks the surreal setting of the forest and the creepiness of the Witch — played in this production by a character tenor — would be too frightening for her 5-year-old son. “I’d say, probably for kids 10 years and up.”
As for the music, “Hansel and Gretel” has been called Wagner’s “11th opera.”
“It’s not a Wagner-length opera, but you get these Wagnerian flavors in the music,” Stonikas says. In her lengthy first-act scene, the mother’s music reaches a tragic intensity. “[Conductor] Sebastian Lang-Lessing is taking it very seriously and having me think of parallels with [“Parsifal” character] Kundry and [“Ring” character] Sieglinde.
“I have been so fortunate to get to do some of my favorite music and to follow my goal of being able to sing for a living.”