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11 January 2007
Jacksonville State Music Department
to Perform "Hansel and Gretel" Opera

Reprinted here in its entirety.

By Shawn Ryan
Entertainment Editor
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 Metropolitan Opera.

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 witch.

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 & Gretel

What: Opera by performed by JSU.
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.
Contact: 782-5876.

Shawn Ryan is the features editor for The Anniston Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3560, 256-241-1991 or via e-mail at

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