GrimmFest brings opera to a younger set


GrimmFest performances in Toronto put a new spin on classic fairy tales. (Chris Hutcheson photo)

Story by Sandra Williams-Hervé Writer

TORONTO, ONTARIO — It’s hard to imagine a childhood without the timeless classics of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.

In 1812, brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published a collection of tales that depicted day-to-day life as central Europeans knew it — capricious and sometimes cruel.

From December 4-8, 2012, the Canadian Opera Company (COC) will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. These brothers were known as academics, not entertainers. But they loved culture and were determined to preserve German folktales. After they discovered how enthralled children were by the tales, the Grimm brothers decided to soften — just a little — the bewitching stories and offer a moral at the end of each story.

During this week, the COC will host a variety of family-friendly programming, including two free concerts showcasing the music from the classic fairy tales as well as a milestone 500th performance of The Brothers Grimm, a touring children’s opera, composed by Dean Burry.

For many youngsters The Brothers Grimm is their first introduction to the sophisticated world of opera. Composer Dean Burry took this responsibility very seriously when first sat down in 1999 to compose the children’s opera.

“I was determined to write something that would appeal to younger people, but wouldn’t necessarily pander to them,” Burry says.

“With this opera I tried to give them something fun, entertaining, exciting and scary, and had a bit of meat to it as well.”

If you’ve been hesitant about buying a ticket to see an opera, fear not. Storytelling is at the core of opera. And, when it’s deconstructed to its basic components, opera is a simple story being told through various art forms: music, drama and dance.

Actress Claire de Sévigné, who plays multiple roles within the production, says that The Brothers Grimm is the perfect show for newcomers to the art form. “You still have the same duets and arias in the story but it is condensed into a 45-minute show.”

“People know these stories regardless of their background or age group,” adds Katherine Semcesen, the COC’s associate director of Education and Outreach. “In opera, The Brothers Grimm inspired many different operas as well.”

GrimmFest doesn’t just stop at the retelling of German fables. The company takes storytelling to the next level by introducing audiences to storytelling from different traditions. On Wednesday, December 5, the performers will stage Fairy Tales from Faraway Lands as part of the company’s free concert services.

Curious? Then join in the fun with Egyptian-Canadian artist Maryem Tollar as she explores unforgettable tales, legends and myths from all around the world. Tollar and company will showcase stories from Arabic, African, Persian, Balkan and Roma gypsy cultures.

With entertaining fantasy-filled plotlines that feature the conflict between good and evil, it’s no wonder the Grimms’ collection of tales naturally lends itself to the world of opera.

More About GrimmFest

Locations: Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W. (at University Avenue)
North York Central Library Auditorium, 5120 Yonge St. (north of Sheppard Avenue) 416-395-5639.
Daniels Spectrum , 585 Dundas St. E. (east of Parliament Street)
Tickets: Mostly free
Tickets to The Brothers Grimm at Daniels Spectrum: $25 for adults, $15 for children (15 and under). Tickets can be purchased online at or by contacting COC Ticket Services at 416-363-8231.
More Info: For a complete schedule of events, please visit
Telephone: 416-363-8231 (long distance in Canada and the U.S. 1-800-250-4653)

Sandra Williams-Hervé is a writer, actress, and producer who divides her time between Toronto, Canada and Paris, France. She was bitten by the wanderlust bug early in life and has visited just about every continent. After growing up in Ontario, she hopes to visit all of Canada’s diverse provinces.

Leave a Reply