Click Selection

Search News Releases:

News Resources
on the Web

11 January 2007

Hansel and Gretel Opens Thursday

Reprinted here in its entirety.

By: Jennifer Bacchus
Staff Writer
The Jacksonville News

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 again.

“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 caught.

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 end.

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 of singers.

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 role.

“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 reaction.

“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.

Jennifer Bacchus is a staff writer at The Jacksonville News. She can be reached at 256-435-5021 or via e-mail at

See story at The Jacksonville News's website: .

Note: JSU faculty, staff and students may access The Jacksonville News online through their affiliation with the University. Those not affiliated with JSU may have to subscribe to receive The Jacksonville News online. If you already subscribe to The Jacksonville News, you receive a complimentary online membership. This provides complete access to all the content and services of the site at no additional charge. Otherwise there is an online monthly charge for their online service. Contact The Jacksonville News for information.

Submit items for news releases by using the request form at