Papermoon Opera Productions founder and “Hansel and Gretel” Director Fenlon Lamb has rolled up these paper sets and costumes to bring them to the Bar Harbor Music Festival performance of the fairytale opera. PHOTO COURTESY OF FENLON LAMB

Opera production features costumes, sets made of paper

BAR HARBOR — Fans of the excellent operas the Bar Harbor Festival has been bringing to the Criterion Theatre for the past 15 years or so have had to be very forgiving.

Not of the singing, which has always been world-class, nor of the acoustics, which are wonderful at the Criterion for such live events.

No, it’s the production values that have required some serious suspension of disbelief.

Although they have significantly improved over time from the first wince-worthy lawn furniture sets, single spotlight and thrift store costuming, the look of these operas never matched the beauty of their sound.

This has been a pity, since part of the appeal of a fully staged opera has always been the sumptuousness of its settings. Castles, pyramids, painted backdrops of colorful city streets, Japanese pagodas, dark underworld passages, circuses and such, populated by characters dressed in embroidered brocades, silk kimonos and gowns, velvet britches, lace ruffles and feathered hats. Even live elephants have lumbered through productions of “Aida” at the Met.

Our forgiving audiences have understood why such spectacle was not possible at the Criterion: tight budgets and limited time and staff top the list.

Despite such restrictions, when former starring mezzo-soprano Fenlon Lamb turned her talents to directing things began to change. First, she simply found better stuff with which to dress the stage and her actors. Then, a couple of years ago, when they performed “La Boheme,” a new solution to the problem emerged.

“My set designer Jeff Ridenour suggested using painted paper panels for the scenes,” Lamb said, “and the costume designer Erica Sword said she could create costumes using paper, too.”

“After the show when nothing irrevocably tore, curled or wrinkled, I thought ‘Wow, this really worked!’ and I started to think of how we could expand on the idea as a solution to bringing both beautiful music and a beautiful look to smaller theaters, with limited budgets like the Criterion.”

This past year she has assembled a production team that still includes Ridenour, a new costume designer, Maureen Thomas, and projectionist Kris Kirkwood. This past March, she incorporated a new company, Papermoon Opera Productions, with just that idea in mind.

“Hansel and Gretel” will be the company’s first full-length professional production, using virtually all paper, which she hopes to tour to other opera houses around the country.

In a bit of irony, now — when they actually have a perfectly good chair or tree stump to use on stage — they disguise it with paper to look one-dimensional.

Lamb says transportation is one of the biggest cost-saving features of this method. All they have to do for the sets is roll them up and all the rolls fit into a small van or trailer.

“Well, it’s a new adventure, and a new venture for me,” Lamb says. “But I’m excited about the potential. I feel that our Papermoon production is now worthy of the talents we’ve assembled for this opera.”

Those talents include mezzo Jamie Van Eyck as Hansel, soprano April Martin as Gretel and tenor Doug Jones as the witch.

It seems fitting for a fairytale book story to be told with paper — as if the pages have come to life, reassembling themselves as dirndls, lederhosen, gingerbread houses and scary woods.

While the opera — about two children who become the heroes of their own scary story— is sung in German, there will be projected English subtitles.

Showtime is 8 p.m., Friday, July 20.

Tickets are still available by calling the Criterion at 288-5886 or going to


Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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