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Release: Immediate

NOTE TO BROADCASTERS: Giacomo Puccini is pronounced JA-co-mo poo-CHEE-nee.

"Gianni Schicchi" is pronounced Johnny SKEE-kee.

UI Opera Theater will present Puccini double bill for spring production

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Opera Theater will present two one-act operas by Giacomo Puccini, the reigning superstar of Italian music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday, May 2, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 4, in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.

The two operas, "Sister Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi," will be performed in an English translation by Beaumont Glass, the director of the UI Opera Theater. The performances will be stage directed by Glass and conducted by James Dixon, the conductor of the University Symphony who is retiring from the UI faculty at the end of the current academic year.

The operas will be Dixon's last performances at the UI before his retirement.

Each performance will be preceded by a discussion led by Beaumont Glass, who is not only the translator, but also the stage director of the productions. These pre-performance discussions, given one hour before curtain time in the Hancher Greenroom, will be free and open to ticketholders for each day's performance.

The production of "Sister Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi" will feature set design by Margaret Wenk of the UI Opera Production Unit. Lighting Design will be by David Thayer, a member of the faculty of the department of theater arts. The chorus director will be David Belles, a graduate assistant in the UI School of Music.

All roles in both operas will be taken by students in the UI School of Music.

The composer of several of the world's most popular operas, Puccini is known for powerfully dramatic works that touch the depths of human emotion. Many of his most popular operas, including "Madame Butterfly," "La Boheme" and "Tosca," stress intense human relationships, with passionate love and violent conflicts that often lead to tragic conclusions for their heroines.

The two one-act operas, however, do no fit this scenario; "Sister Angelica" is the sweetly sentimental tale of a young nun's redemption, and "Gianni Schicchi" is a hilariously comic tale of a greedy family and the merry trickster who spoils their plans.

"Sister Angelica" is the story of the orphaned mother of an illegitimate child, who was forced by her guardian to give up her baby and become a nun. After seven years Angelica's aunt, a princess, arrives at the convent to demand that the young nun sign a legal document. Angelica learns that her son had died two years earlier.

Half mad with grief she takes poison, hoping to join the little boy in the next world. Suddenly she realizes that her suicide is a sin that will divide her from her child forever. With all her strength she prays for forgiveness. As she dies she sees her child in heaven, a sign that she has been forgiven.

In "Gianni Schicchi" the relatives of a rich old man are gathered around his death bed, each hoping to be rewarded for their loud expressions of grief. When he dies, however, they are enraged to learn that he has left everything to a monastery. Since no one knows of the old man's death, the relatives persuade a clever neighbor -- Gianni Schicchi -- to impersonate the dying man and dictate a new will.

Schicchi agrees, but reminds them that according to the laws of 13th-century Florence, if the trick is discovered they will all have their right hands cut off. A notary is sent for, and Schicchi dictates a new will, leaving a few possessions to the relatives but bequeathing the three most valuable properties to himself.

The opera concludes as Schicchi chases the greedy relatives out of his new house, leaving only his daughter and her beloved -- a nephew of one of the greedy relatives -- behind to enjoy the peace that has descended on the scene.

In "Sister Angelica," the title role will be taken by Marcya McReynolds (May 2) and LeAnne Foust (May 4). The Princess will be sung by Barbara Buddin (May 2) and Roxanne Rowedder (May 4), and Sister Genevieve will be portrayed by Erin McMahon (May 2) and Solveig Olsen (May 4).

The part of Gianni Schicchi will be sung by Drew Poling (May 2) and Jeffrey Fields (May 4). That opera's romantic interest is Lauretta, Gianni's daughter, performed by Maria Gimenez (May 2) and Erin McMahon (May 4); and Rinuccio, sung by Ezechial Thurman (May 2) and John Des Marais (May 4).

Beaumont Glass was for many years a leading opera coach of the Zurich Opera and the Festival of Aix-en-Provence in France. Along with staging operas in Europe and the United States, he has accompanied song recitals in the Salzburg, Aix and Holland festivals, as well as on tour with well known singers including Grace Bumbry, Martina Arroyo and Simon Estes. Since 1980 he has staged 32 major productions for UI Opera Theater, and has provided his own translations of many of the operas.

Glass' biography of the great soprano Lotte Lehmann was published in 1988. Volume I of his edition of "Schubert's Complete Song Texts" was published in 1996, and Vol. II was just released in March.

Dixon, a professor in the UI School of Music, has conducted the University Symphony Orchestra since 1954 and was music director and conductor of the Quad-City Symphony in Davenport from 1965 until his retirement in 1994. He studied conducting at Iowa under the late Philip Greeley Clapp and as the protege of Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

Dixon has appeared as a guest conductor with major orchestras throughout the world. He has won numerous awards for his musical and educational activities, including the Gustav Mahler Medal, the Ditson Award from Columbia University and the Laurel Leaf Award from the American Composer's Alliance. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Augustana College in Rock Island in 1980, and a Doctor of Fine Arts from St. Ambrose University in Davenport in 1988.

In 1989, he was appointed Philip Greeley Clapp/Carver Distinguished Professor of Music at the UI.

Tickets for the production of "Sister Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi" are available from the Hancher Auditorium Box Office for $18 and $13. UI students and seniors may purchased discounted tickets for $14 and $10; youth 17 and under receive a 50-percent discount.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

For more information, call (319) 335-1667.