By Shawn Ryan
The Anniston Star
Jacksonville State students Jean Allen and
Estefania Cuevas perform with the children during practice of the opera version
of "Hansel and Gretel." Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star.
Englebert Humperdinck wrote an opera? About Hansel and Gretel?
Not THAT Englebert Humperdinck. The pop singer’s real name is Arnold George
Dorsey and he took his stage name from the German composer.
Opera’s Humperdinck started Hansel and Gretel in about 1890 (pressured by his
sister, who saw her brother sinking in a creative funk), and its first
production took place in Germany in 1893. While non-opera lovers might not know
much about it, Hansel and Gretel is quite the popular piece of theater. In 1923,
it was the first opera to be broadcast live over radio, coming from the Royal
Opera House in London. In 1931, it was the first opera broadcast from New York’s
And, since Humperdinck studied under opera god Richard Wagner, Hansel and
Gretel contains more than a hint of Wagnerian orchestration, love of harmonies
and chromatic tones.
OK, so pedigree firmly established, the fairytale brother and sister bring
their gingerbread-gorging ways this week to Jacksonville State University, where
the Music Department will offer its interpretation of the opera.
JSU is performing a straightforward version of Hansel and Gretel, according
to Timothy Marshall Ballard, who earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees
from JSU and returned from his home in Washington, D.C. to play the role of the
Yes, the witch is being played by a man, a requirement for the role, which
needs a tenor or mezzo-soprano, Ballard says. “It’s an absolute hoot,” he says.
Up in Washington, Ballard is known as a “dramatic tenor,” so the fun of playing
the witch in Hansel and Gretel would not usually come his way, he says.
“I never get to do this up there,” he says.
In addition to a man dressing as a woman to play the witch, vocal
requirements demand that a woman dress as a young boy to play the role of
Hansel. In this case, JSU student Estefania Cuevas handles Hansel. Gretel,
however, is played by a woman, Jean Allen.
The JSU production also features a “children’s chorus” made up of kids from
the Gadsden School of Fine Arts and Kitty Stone Elementary School. They play the
roles of the children freed after the witch is killed.
Hansel & GretelWhat: Opera by performed by
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight-Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: JSU Mason Hall Performance Center.
How much: $12
adults, $10 students, $15 at the door; on Saturday, $35 also includes dinner at
Classic on Noble.