Shepherd University stages 'Hansel and Gretel'

September 17, 2010|by TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Hansel (Jaely Chamberlain) and Gretel (Lawren Hill) are trying to escape from the witch in Shepherd College's adaptation of Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel." Shepherd University Opera Workshop is staging the German opera complete with a Tim Burton-esque update and English lyrics.
By Bryce Britton,

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - In the name of liberal arts, two music professors are giving 19th-century romantic opera a Tim Burton-style makeover.

"This is opera the way it's meant to be," said Joseph Regan, the Shepherd University music professor who collaborated with his colleague Bryce Britton on a Generation Next adaptation of Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel."

The opera debuts Friday, Sept. 24, at the Frank Arts Center Theater and continues through Sunday, Sept. 26. "Hansel and Gretel" is this year's Shepherd University Opera Workshop production, a yearly fall concert that showcases Shepherd's vocal students. Regan is the musical director. Britton is the director.

Lawren Hill, a North Hagerstown High School graduate, sings the role of Gretel, a part she said requires lots of stamina - Hansel and Gretel sing for 60 minutes of the nearly 90-minute production and there's no intermission. But the outcome is worth the effort. Hill is a fan of opera.


"The music, it pulls at your heart," said Hill, who is a senior at Shepherd.

The original debuted in Germany in 1893 and the opera recounts the familiar Grimm Brothers fairy tale about a brother and sister who get lost in the woods and end up in the clutches of a witch who turns children into gingerbread.

The professors kept true to the original score. The only major sound difference is the lack of a full-scale orchestra.

Pianist and Shepherd student Trevor Rowland is the one-man orchestra instead, Regan said.

And for it to be accessible to an American audience, the lyrics will be sung in a standard English translation.

The major changes come from how the opera is presented. Regan said it is the visual aspect that is guided by a Tim Burton-esque idiom.

The set is comprised of three shadow boxes with white panels with stylized black figures of the forest and the house. Shadow puppets are used for visual effects - like the witch zipping off on her broom.

But the heavy lifting will still come from the singers on stage.

Regan said he uses Opera Workshop as a teaching tool for the performers, his way of applying the idea of liberal arts' learning to musical training.

"The problem I run into with students is that students are marinated in Aretha Franklin, Motown, The Beatles - Lady Gaga," Regan said. "But you give them an opera like 'Hansel and Gretel,' which has all the trappings of a romantic opera, it can be hard for them to find a connection to that."

It's the reason they decided to hatch a creepier, more stylized take on Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel." Something you'd probably see in a Tim Burton film, Regan said.

He might be on to something.

"Doing this opera has been an eye-opening experience," said Jaely Chamberlain, a 21-year-old senior at Shepherd who is singing the part of Hansel.

She said she's now considering a career as an opera performer, instead of just performing at recitals and concerts.

"It's much easier than I thought it was going to be," Chamberlain said. "I guess I didn't believe in myself enough."

If you go ...

WHAT: Shepherd University's Opera Workshop presents, "Hansel and Gretel," an adaptation of Engelbert Humperdinck's 19th-century opera.

WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24. Also 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26.

WHERE: Frank Arts Center Theater, Shepherd University campus, Shepherdstown, W.Va. The theater is accessible off West Campus Drive.

COST: $10, general admission; $5, admission for students age 18 or younger. Free admission for Shepherd students or Friends of Music MAC cardholders.

MORE: Call 301-876-5555 or go to

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