Couple performs as Romeo and Juliet in opera
by Erin Williams
Special to The Star
Mar 23, 2012 | 2724 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To hear Eric Wilcox tell it, he was smitten with Estefania Cuevas the first time he ever heard her sing — all at the ripe age of 15, when the soprano, three-and-a-half years Wilcox’s senior, lent her voice to the Mozart opera “La finta giardiniera,” which Wilcox saw after receiving a ticket from his voice teacher.

“I just fell head over heels then and there,” says the now-23-year-old Wilcox of his future wife. The next year, Wilcox finally got his chance to introduce himself to his Colombian-born wife, when they were both cast in a production of “The Gondoliers.” Jumping on the opportunity to give a ride home, “I asked her to marry me when we were in the car then, actually,” remembers the tenor, who was still in high school at the time.

Flattered and flummoxed, Cuevas, who was a music student at Jacksonville State at the time, allowed her brother, who was also in the car, to deliver the heartbreaking news to Wilcox. “My brother told him, ‘Well, I think you’re going to have to ask Richard,’ — that was my boyfriend’s name at the time,” she recalls.

Wilcox didn’t need to worry, however. The two ended up building a friendly relationship, and soon found themselves working together again — and back in the car, nonetheless — when they were rehearsing for the opera “The Secret Garden,” which was staged in Gadsden.

“We spent a lot of time together in the car learning music and talking. Our relationship was based definitely off of a friendship,” Wilcox said.

It wasn’t until Wilcox’s senior year in high school, when he and Cuevas were both cast in a production of “La Boheme” with Opera Birmingham in 2007 that Richard finally left the picture and Wilcox was able to make a move.

“I really tried to stay away so she could process, but she didn’t really want that — and we’ve been together ever since,” he said.

The couple, who married in 2010, have been making beautiful music together ever since. Cuevas Wilcox received her bachelor’s degree in music the same year they wed, with Eric is due to receive his degree in the same discipline this spring. The two are both planning to pursue post-graduate work and each teach music classes to students of all ages in Jacksonville, Gadsden and The Donoho School. Long term, the two would both love to pursue careers in the field.

“There are many things that have to fall into place … in order to have a career,” Cuevas Wilcox says. “We understand that it’s very competitive, and it’s not just about having a good voice or having a good technique; it’s being at the right place at the right time, knowing the right people.”

For now, they are starring in the title roles of the operatic “Romeo et Juliette” by Charles Gounod, which involves JSU Opera Theater, Ars Nova Opera Community from Huntsville, Etowah Youth Orchestra and Downtown Dance Conservatory from Gadsden tonight and Saturday at Gadsden State, marking their first romantic pairing together (they starred in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” together in 2009 as entangled lovers). Their performing with each other puts Cuevas Wilcox, who was asked to take on the role, at ease.

“He is very natural on stage,” she says. “That makes my job easier because I’m not trying to [make up] something. I actually feel it naturally because of what he’s doing onstage.”

Wilcox echoes mutual sentiments about performing with his wife.

“Estefania’s voice is really easy to fall in love with, and I think the audience will think so, too. She has a sweetness to her sound and a warmth that makes Juliet very ethereal and pure — there’s an innocence to her sound.”

Presented in French with English subtitles, the two-hour opera has demanded much from the performers both physically and vocally.

“To sing operatically for that long, you have to build your stamina and really have your technique in check,” says Cuevas Wilcox. Learning the language, says Wilcox, poses technical hurdles of its own.

“I can’t speak French, but I know what every word I’m singing means!” he says of learning the script and nailing the pronunciations. “It’s hard because you have to do everything with your voice and you still have to [sing] over an orchestra. Your whole body makes the sound — it’s not your throat at all.”

Of all of the challenges the opera posed, one caught Wilcox a bit off-guard.

“The director yesterday had to spend extra time telling me how to kiss her,” he says. “He was telling me that I can’t be about the kiss, I have to be about getting to the kiss, so I guess that was the problem — I move too fast, and I start kissing too soon.”

If you go

“Romeo et Juliette,” by Charles Gounod

When: 7 p.m. today and Saturday

Where: Gadsden State Community College, Wallace Hall Fine Arts Center

Purchase tickets:
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Couple performs as Romeo and Juliet in opera by Erin Williams
Special to The Star

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