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CCU Atheneum:
"Hansel and Gretel" illustration by Arthur Rackham. "Hansel and Gretel" is a well-known fairy tale of German origin, collected by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. The tale has been adapted to various media, most notably the opera "Hansel und Gretel" (1893) by Engelbert Humperdinck.

CCU presents first opera production: 'Hansel & Gretel'

by Brian Druckenmiller
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The Department of Music at Coastal Carolina University will present its first full-length opera production in December: “Hansel and Gretel.”

The Opera Workshop will perform Engelbert Humperdinck’s masterpiece at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17, and Sunday, Dec. 18, in Wheelwright Auditorium. The production stars CCU students Brittany Shirley as Hansel and Katie Clark as Gretel, and is directed by David Bankston, associate professor of music, with musical direction by Steven Gross, associate professor of theatre. Although the Opera Workshop has staged numerous scenes from a variety of selections over the past two years, this is the first time an entire production will be performed.

“It’s exciting,” said Donald Sloan, chair of the Department of Music. “Although the first time you do anything, one challenge is to get people’s attention.”

To get this attention, the workshop chose a popular production: “Hansel and Gretel.” The tale, originally a story by the Grimm Brothers, is about two siblings who, while looking for food in the forest to bring back to their family, outwit an evil witch before nearly being baked and eaten.

The tale is truly timeless, conveying themes that are pertinent in America’s current social climate, no matter how fantastic the plot may be. Bankston relates the piece to the current economic struggles and the strain that poverty places on those experiencing it. “It’s an enormous pressure not having any money,” said Bankston. “There is a dark side to [the opera], but it can also be seen as children doing heroic deeds.”

In that sense, this opera also represents the ability of humanity, even innocent children, to overcome adversity. Opera itself, as Sloan explained, is a representation of culture and universal themes woven into a convoluted and twisted plot. “It was the precursor to cinema,” said Sloan. “There’s so much to keep your interest.”

The common misconception with opera, as Bankston explained, is that it is “high-brow entertainment.” In fact, opera, for most of its 400-year history, has been a popular entertainment that brought communities together. Although class distinctions were often apparent (the people with more money had better seats), opera was never strictly for high society. The problem today is that many people don't appreciate the entertainment value of opera.

For this reason, “Hansel and Gretel” makes a great first production for CCU. Both Sloan and Bankston agree that it is a good introductory opera for contemporary audiences. In fact, the production was purposely scheduled to be at 3 p.m. both days to accommodate families and, specifically, children.

“We want to keep opera in front of the public because that’s where it belongs,” said Sloan. “We want our audience to appreciate opera, and [“Hansel and Gretel”] is great to introduce kids, or anyone, to opera.”

Both Sloan and Bankston stress that opera is making a “comeback” and is readily available to the Grand Strand in the form of simulcasts at local movie theaters; however, these opportunities do not compare to witnessing a live production.

“Live performances will not go out of fashion,” said Sloan. “It satisfies a public who craves authenticity – the artwork gets reborn in performance.”

Katie Clark, music major at CCU, is ready for the challenge: “It is one of the scariest things I have ever participated in,” said Clark. “However, I am beyond excited. I hope this will lead to even more operas for Coastal in the future. This is definitely a giant leap in the right direction.”

Ultimately, the Department of Music plans to continue producing operas for the Coastal Carolina community; the goal is to have a full production once a year. “We have confidence that we can do this,” said Sloan. “It’s a terrific experience for the students and for the audience. We appreciate opera and want to keep it alive.”

General admission is $10; alumni and senior citizens (age 65 and over) are $7; CCU and HGTC faculty and staff are $7; CCU and HGTC students are $5; and children (10 and under) are free with ticket. For tickets and additional information, visit the Wheelwright Box Office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or call 843-349-2502.


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