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Release: Immediate

UI Opera Theater will present Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Mikado' July 25 and 27

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Opera Theater will present one of the classic works of musical theater, Gilbert and Sullivan's satirical comic-opera masterpiece "The Mikado," at 8 p.m. Friday, July 25, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 27, in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

"The Mikado" will be directed by Beaumont Glass, director of the UI Opera Theater. William Hatcher, the director of choral activities at the UI School of Music, will conduct the performances. Stage and costume design will be by Margaret Wenk of the Opera Production Unit. Major roles in the production will be taken by students in the UI School of Music.

Although "The Mikado" has a Japanese setting -- faithfully created with authentic details for the opera's 1886 premiere -- the characters and situations are like those in all Gilbert and Sullivan comedies: dead-on satires of life in Victorian England. The exotic setting serves to make British politics, manners and mores seem even more ridiculous, and in fact "The Mikado," as a satire of English behavior, has been very popular in Japan.

"This is the most popular and best loved of all the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas," Glass said. "It is a masterful parody, a spoof of snobbish Englishmen and of intricately complicated opera plots. The words are ingeniously witty, and the melodies are the kind you can't help humming as you leave the theater."

"The Mikado" was written in 1884-85. Gilbert and Sullivan formed the most popular show-writing team in England, but they had been unable to agree on a new subject and their work together was at a standstill. According to legend, Gilbert was inspired with the idea for "The Mikado" when an ancient Japanese sword fell off the wall in his study.

At the time, England was in the midst of a fascination with Japan. A Japanese exhibition featuring costumes, paintings and Geishas serving tea had opened near Buckingham palace, and all of London was captivated. Thus Gilbert's inspiration -- whatever its source -- played right into the public mood. Japanese people from the exhibition provided expertise in setting, dress, manner, and even ways of moving, to make the Japanese touches in the original production as authentic as possible.

The cast of characters includes a ruler obsessed with making the punishment fit the crime; an executioner who can't do his job, because he would have to start by chopping off his own head; and a Lord High Everything Else who takes his multiple responsibilities so seriously that he simultaneously proposes expenses as Lord of the Treasury and opposes them as Leader of the Opposition.

Any summary of the plot is bound to sound like a typically preposterous operetta: Nanki-Poo, the son of the Mikado, is engaged to the elderly Katisha but is in love with the beautiful Yum-Yum. Disguised as a wandering minstrel, Nanki-Poo has arrived in Titipu on the day of Yum-Yum's wedding to her elderly guardian, the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko. The situation is complicated by the expected visit to Titipu of -- who else? -- Nanki-Poo's father, the Mikado.

But the twists and turns of the plot are almost irrelevant, since everyone knows that the story will end happily. Naturally the young lovers end up together, and their elderly suitors are paired up, too. What matters is the delightful music and the comic flair with which the whole concoction is put together.

Appearing in the cast of "The Mikado" will be Sean Williams in the title role; Barbara Buddin and Rachel Andrews as Katisha; Ezechial Thurman as Nanki-Poo; J.S. Endres as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner; Darwynn Carter as Poo-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else; and Emily Truckenbrod and Maria Gimenez as Yum-Yum.

Other artistic contributors to the production will include choreographer Rani Welch and chorus master David Belles.

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 he 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 Volume II was just released in March.

Hatcher has served as director of choral activities at the UI School of Music since 1988. He directs the graduate choral conducting program, conducts choral ensembles in the School of Music and frequently appears as music director of productions by the UI Opera Theater. He was national president of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) 1991-93 and was chair of the 1991 ACDA national convention. Prior to coming to Iowa he taught at UCLA, the University of Washington and Pasadena City College.

Under his direction, the UI choral ensemble Kantorei participated in an International Choral Competition in Tolosa, Spain, this past year. Prior to that honor, Kantorei was one of only five choirs chosen to participate in the 1994 World Choral Festival in Seoul, South Korea, where they presented concerts over an eight-day period. The group has also toured to Russia, Estonia and Finland and regional and national conventions of the ACDA.

Tickets for "The Mikado" are available from the Hancher Auditorium Box Office for $12. UI students, seniors and youth 17 and under may purchase tickets for $7.

Hancher box office summer hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays. 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. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.