Valerie Hosler returns to Pittsburgh Festival Opera for another season. Her previous roles have included a tough ballplayer, a red-cloaked children's story heroine, a pig sibling, a gangster trying to settle a debt, and now a candy-loving little girl.

Hosler Valerie
Photo by Mark Abramowitz

Valerie Hosler has been on stage since she was in the North Allegheny School District. The Findlay, Ohio native was a breakout comedienne in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s 2015 Damn Yankees as baseball player Smokey. 

In 2016, Valerie sang the title role of Little Red Riding Hood and one of the gangster duo singing the hilarious classic “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” with Dimitrie Lazich in Kiss Me, Kate. This season audiences see her again in our children’s opera Hansel and Gretel, running Saturday mornings at 11 am through July 15.

You just graduated in May with your Bachelor’s in Early Childhood and Special Education at Robert Morris University. So, what got you interested in opera?
Before opera, I primarily performed in musical theater. In my junior year at North Allegheny High School, I was cast as Penelope Pennywise (written for a high soprano belter) in the hilarious musical, Urinetown. I began studying with Sonya Caceres in Pittsburgh, who helped me realize I’m really an operatic soprano, not a belter. After this vocal discovery, I fell in love with opera and classical vocal music because it is so beautiful, challenging, and fun to sing!

What was your first opera experience like? (in the audience and on stage)
My first opera was The Tales of Hoffmann with Undercroft Opera in Pittsburgh, PA, where Robert Frankenberry was singing Hoffman. I believe I was 12 at the time and I was especially entranced by the role of Olympia. I thought her aria was so adorably funny, and I had never heard someone sing so high or fast. I definitely imagined myself in the role at that time, and now I am lucky enough to be able to sing Olympia’s Aria (aka The Doll Song). And, Mr. Frankenberry did not disappoint singing Hoffmann either!

My first time performing in an opera was a bit non-traditional; I was in the world premiere of Night of the Living Dead at Microscopic Opera. I was part of the zombie/angel female chorus and it was very challenging, but also very fun. The music was modern and creepy, but also difficult to master. During the rehearsal process, my high school friend and grandpa died within a week of each other. Even though the opera was all about death, it was a nice distraction and I was able to totally immerse myself into perfecting the music and my character. I am glad that I had this experience because it taught me a lot about modern opera, being a professional chorister, and learning music that hadn’t been previously performed.

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Photo by Mark Abramowitz

 

This will be your second time playing a young girl in PFO’s children’s operas. How is Gretel different from Little Red?
I am so excited to be returning to a different young female role in Pittsburgh Festival Opera's summer season! Though Gretel and Little Red are both children, they are different ages and this truly changes a lot of their personalities and developmental milestones. Little Red was about six or seven years old, like a first grade student, but Gretel is 10 years old, like a fourth grader. This age difference, alongside the differences in their family dynamic, makes Gretel more mature or bossy and less hyper or rambunctious. Gretel believes she is very mature and needs to tell her brother, Hansel, what to do. Also, unlike Little Red, Gretel is not quite as impulsive due to her older age. However, Gretel still can't resist the Witch's candy cottage!

Last year you said you identified with Little Red’s wittiness and precociousness. How do you identify with Gretel this season?
Just like Gretel, I also have a younger brother who I love and want to protect. I understand why Gretel's bossy, she thinks she knows the best way to keep her brother and herself safe. However, little brothers can still be a pain to any older sister, so I also understand why she sometimes teases Hansel or can lose her patience with him. In the end, though, Hansel and Gretel learn to become a great cooperative team to defeat the Witch. Finally, in order to realistically act out these schemes with Hansel during the opera, I also used personal inspiration from my previous childhood shenanigans with my brother.

What’s different about performing for a younger audience?
Younger audiences are not afraid to really participate in the operatic production, which I absolutely love!  I will often hear many more sounds like "bravo", laughing, or crying while the action is taking place. Sometimes, children will even come close to the stage. While I love seeing all of the young faces during and after a performance, I always try to stay very mindful of keeping all audience members safe.  However, I understand that it is so hard for children, especially very young children, to sit still.  It's even hard for me to stop moving and I'm 20 years older than many of the audiences members! That's why the 40-45 minute structure of these outreach opera productions is the perfect time frame for all audiences to truly enjoy an operatic masterpiece like Hansel and Gretel. Finally, the experience after the production is very different with young audiences. Young audiences and their adults love to take pictures with me while I'm costume and ask questions about my character (Gretel) and myself.  In main-stage productions like Kiss Me Kate, I couldn't come out to meet the audience in my costume.

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Photo by Mark Abramowitz

How have you enjoyed taking this production to the Pittsburgh Public Schools?
I've loved taking this production to Pittsburgh Public Schools! The audiences from these schools have been so engaged. They have really shown their understanding of the plot elements and higher level thinking skills through their questions after the production. For example, some children wondered why our mother would want to send us to the forest alone. This is a great question that has so much educational merit! Depending on how one would answer it and the age of the audience members, there could be a discussion regarding family dynamics in the past or in other cultures.

What has been your favorite role that you’ve gotten to perform and why?
Personality-wise, my favorite character has to be Smokey from Damn Yankees [Pittsburgh Festival Opera 2015]. Damn Yankees has always been one of my favorite musicals, and I was always so jealous of the baseball players because they had the best songs. So, when I found out I got to play the dumbest and funniest player on the team, I was ecstatic!

Vocally, my favorite role was Cleopatra. Handel and I are buddies, and I love the way his music feels in my voice.  I especially loved singing “Venere Bella”, “Da Tempeste”, and “Se Pieta.”

Do you have any dream roles?
In opera, my dream role is Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. In musical theater, my dream role is Anna in The King and I.

 

Hannah Shea