Doctoral students direct opera productions

Laura Testino

Students at The University of Alabama and the Tuscaloosa community have the opportunity to travel back to their childhood in a refined fashion as the UA Opera Theater presents “Fables and Fairy Tales: ‘Paul Bunyan’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel.’”

Paul Houghtaling, the director of UA Opera Theater, invites audiences to become “fully enriched, utterly charmed, mesmerized and spellbound” by the opera, shown in the Choral Opera Room of the Moody Music Building Friday, Oct. 11, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 13, at 3 p.m.

While Houghtaling is the director of the program, for the first time, he has stepped away from directing the opera and bestowed the opportunity upon current doctoral student Jen Stephenson, director of “Hansel and Gretel,” and recent doctoral graduate student Jennifer Bryant, director of “Paul Bunyan.”

“That’s what [is] different about this, is that both of the one-act operas are being staged by graduate students, and just everything about it is a learning experience for them,” Houghtaling said.

Fostering an environment filled with opportunity is one of the main focuses of Houghtaling’s program, an aspect that enticed Alana Sealy, a second-year graduate student majoring in vocal performance, to choose The University of Alabama for her graduate studies. The masters program has provided her the opportunity to serve as an assistant to Houghtaling in directing the UA Opera Theater.

Sealy said while she has always had the drive to be in the opera world, she still needed direction.

“[Houghtaling’s] program has taught me so much about résumés and headshots and everything you need to know and how to look for young artist programs. It’s been more than just singing; it’s been all the training I need. He’s really focused my pathway,” she said.

Sealy will be Mother in “Hansel and Gretel,” an opera that has greatly impacted her passion for the art form.

“I was one of the little gingerbread children that are in our show when I was 10, and being on that stage and seeing the performers be Hansel and Gretel and Mother and Father was very inspiring,” she said.

While Sealy is enjoying the personal coincidence of performing in the influential opera, Houghtaling’s choice of show was no accident.

“I choose repertoire based on the members of my program – members of my opera theatre company – for the variety of roles, the number of roles, the number of performance opportunities and also roles that will challenge my more advanced students, as well as give good opportunity for those younger, less experienced performers so that everybody gets a chance to spread their wings, find themselves as a singer-actor and be on stage,” Houghtaling said.

Andrew Livingston, a freshman majoring in vocal performance, has the role of John Shears in “Paul Bunyan.” He has worked with the UA Opera Theater for three years, but this is the first year that he has had a role in a full-length opera.

“Fables and Fairy Tales” will be performed in English, unlike many other operas, and Livingston is excited to be a part of a show that is more accessible to the audience.

“It’s a very family-friendly show, it’s good for children and it helps educate them, because not many children get the opportunity to see an opera,” Livingston said.

“Fables and Fairy Tales” will be the last UA Opera Theater show performed in the Moody Music Hall space, as they will be performing in a new space beginning this spring. Sealy said she hopes audiences will come and support the program during this bittersweet farewell.

Tickets for “Fables and Fairy Tales: ‘Paul Bunyan’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel’” are $5 for students and $20 for general admission. They will be available in the box office before the show, but audience members are encouraged to purchase them online at and arrive in the Choral Opera Room in the Moody Music Building before the show begins.