UAFS making history with production of ‘Hansel and Gretel’

UAFS produces classic opera ‘Hansel and Gretel’

Carolyn Young (standing) is the Sandman, Josie Martinez (seated right) is Hansel and Kassandra Jiminez (seated left) is Gretel in a scene from the UAFS Opera & Musical Theatre Workshop production of “Hansel and Gretel.”

(Courtesy Photo/UAFS)
Carolyn Young (standing) is the Sandman, Josie Martinez (seated right) is Hansel and Kassandra Jiminez (seated left) is Gretel in a scene from the UAFS Opera & Musical Theatre Workshop production of “Hansel and Gretel.” (Courtesy Photo/UAFS)

Just because Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" dates back to 1893 -- and is an opera -- doesn't mean audiences won't thoroughly enjoy it. Elizabeth Momand is sure because she's been watching her cast fall in love with the production during rehearsals this fall at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

"'Hansel and Gretel' is such fun," enthuses Momand, who is a professor of voice at UAFS and director of the production. "Because there are only a few singers in each act, some cast members had not seen other parts of the opera until recently in our rehearsals. I loved seeing how excited the entire cast became once we started putting it all together. They are having fun, so I really think the audience will have fun as well.

"I'd like the audience to know that opera is not meant to be stuffy and boring," she adds. "It should be engaging. If something is funny, we want the audience to laugh! If there is tragedy, express shock! The cast feeds off of audience responses to what is happening on stage. Come prepared to have fun!"

In fact, Momand believes so strongly in the value of staging a full opera production that she's worked toward that goal throughout her 21 years at UAFS.

"So last year I decided it was going to happen," she says. "[The Opera & Musical Theatre Workshop] presented James Sclater's English chamber opera, 'The Christmas Gift.'

"Dr. Sclater is a professor emeritus at Mississippi College, my alma mater," she explains. "We were able to Zoom with him and get his insights on how he perceived it when composing it. It was a wonderful experience.

"The opera is set in a church, and we performed it at St. John's Episcopal Church in Fort Smith. And it was double cast so more students could be involved in the production. It was a hit," she says proudly. "And it marked the first time a full opera was performed by students at UAFS in at least 40 years. That's as far back as I could find records. It might have been the first full opera ever performed by a student ensemble at UAFS."

Momand has an even bigger goal for UAFS, however. While the opera was open to all students by audition, she says she and her colleagues are working to create a musical theater major and minor. In the spring, they'll produce a full-length musical, "9 to 5" with Sally Story directing and Momand as music director.

Behind the curtain, "I don't find a lot of difference in the rehearsal process" between musical theater and opera, she adds. "There's music, acting, and a little dancing. So that's all part of the same process as musical theater.

"What has been nice about this production is that when we're rehearsing only with a couple of singers, all the rest of the cast helps out either in the shop with set construction or on other production aspects like props, costumes or marketing. I want the students to be involved in every aspect of creating opera. I have fantastic music and theater colleagues to work with, so those collaborations are particularly beneficial."

For audiences, there's not much difference either.

"If they are familiar with musicals, it will be somewhat similar, but almost everything is sung," Momand says. "There are only two spoken lines in 'Hansel and Gretel.' The one observance mentioned by most first-time opera attendees is that it takes a few minutes to get used to hearing dialogue -- conversations -- being sung."

In addition to UAFS students, the roles of the gingerbread children will be performed by students from Fairview Elementary School in Fort Smith under the direction of Fairview music teacher Joseph Reed. Reed, a UAFS alum, says it has been an honor to collaborate with his alma mater.

"These students have been practicing weekly for the last two months and are excited to join the UAFS Opera Workshop on stage."

"This opera is the perfect opera for first-time opera attendees," Momand promises. "It has serious moments, funny moments, and moments that will tug at your heart strings. And it has a children's chorus!"



'Hansel and Gretel'

WHEN -- 7 p.m. Dec. 5 & Dec. 7

WHERE -- Breedlove Auditorium on the UAFS campus

COST -- Admission is free, but tickets are required


FYI -- "Hansel and Gretel" is sung in English.

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