By: Jennifer Bacchus
Hansel (left), played by Estefania Cuevas, and
Gretel, played by Jean Allen, dance and sing instead of doing their chores, a
decision that leads to the children losing their way in the woods.
Mason Hall’s Performance Center
will be turned into a dark, shadowy forest this Thursday as Jacksonville State
University’s opera department opens its fourth season with Englebert
Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.
“It’s a story that everyone knows,” said Dr. Nathan Wight, the opera’s
director. “It brought Englebert Humperdinck to fame. It’s his only really known
opera, and it’s accessible to the students while still being very challenging
for the college students.”
Despite the childish roles the lead vocalists are asked to play, the score is
challenging for the cast, requiring them to sing notes higher than usual or, as
is the case with the witch, changing tempo and tone frequently.
“She’s just totally unglued,” said Timothy Ballard, a JSU alumnus who plays
the witch in this production, of his character. Ballard sees the witch’s
personality really being portrayed by the music. “The witch’s music is some of
the weirdest in the thing because she changes keys a lot, she changes rhythms a
lot and she’s got really strange, meticulous things like that.”
Of course, one of the biggest challenges for Estefania Cuevas and Jean Allen,
who play Hansel and Gretel respectively, is that of learning to be a child
“Its fun, it’s complicated,” said Cuevas of her mischievous role. “Being a
girl and being grown up you have to dig back and think about your childhood and
how you used to act, but then modify that into how a boy would act.”
In the opera, Hansel and Gretel begin to play instead of doing their chores
and find themselves lost in the woods. After falling asleep for some time, they
awaken to find themselves near a house made of gingerbread.
This is the point in the production which, according to Wight, is definitely
not for small children.
“Even though it has children in it, they are older children,” he said and
cringed a bit as he recalled how the witch in the tale ate the children she
Ballard disagrees with Wight about the witch being a cannibal. Instead, he
views his character as a serial killer. But, no matter if the witch is a
cannibal or just a child killer, to everyone’s delight she is defeated in the
After the witch’s destruction, the children she turned into gingerbread in
the past all return and thank Hansel and Gretel for rescuing them. These
children are played several of Kitty Stone Elementary’s Kitty Stone Singers and
a member of the Gadsden Performing Arts Center.
This children’s chorus is a large reason Wight chose Hansel and Gretel. It
gave him and JSU’s opera department an excuse to reach out to a new generation
These 16 boys and girls chose to spend the time and effort involved in
performing an opera purely for the pleasure of singing.
“I thought it would be fun, and I’ve never done it before,” said Allison
Hamilton, a fifth grader at Kitty Stone Elementary.
A few of the girls, like Kelsey Matthews, have even taken on the extra task
of playing angels during the opera, a job which requires them to dance around
Hansel and Gretel while they sleep. Of course, Matthews can’t wait to see the
rest of the opera to see how her two small parts fit into the whole.
“I want to see it,” said the Kitty Stone sixth grader. “I want to see how the
opera is and what it’s about. I’ve heard the story of Hansel and Gretel, but not
the opera, so I want to see what it’s like.”
Even though the children’s chorus has a small part in the production, Wight
and the rest of his crew have made sure they had a good time learning their
“For one thing, they don’t make it boring. They make it really exciting,”
said Cathy Boudousquie, who is in fifth grade at Kitty Stone.
The characters in the opera have been treated with just as much care. Every
character, no matter how small the role, is allowed to develop so that the
audience sees more than just their superficial traits.
“We play these people that have other past experiences and hopes and fears
and doubts about themselves. So it’s a real challenge as an actor to fill out a
character, to make it real,” said Matthew Headley, who plays Peter, the father
of Hansel and Gretel.
Of course, every member of the cast is looking forward to their ultimate
payoff for all of this hard work — when they finally get to see the audience’s
“I want the audience to be able to indulge in the performance,” said Jean
Allen. “That’s such a big deal to me, to keep the audience captivated.
Hansel and Gretel begins at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday
nights. There will be a matinee performance at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. For tickets
or information, call Dr. Wight at 782-5876.