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(NOTE TO EDITORS: It is typical for the Madrigal Dinners performances to sell out. We suggest that you check with the box office just before publication of this story, so that you can give your readers the most up-to-date information on ticket availability.)

19th annual edition of Elizabethan Madrigal Dinners at UI Dec. 11-14

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Audiences will have the opportunity to enter a world of "olden-times" fantasy at the University of Iowa's 19th annual Elizabethan Madrigal Dinners, with generous servings of music, dance and food served in a Renaisssance courtly setting.

The dinners, a joint presentation of the UI School of Music and the Iowa Memorial Union (IMU), will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Dec. 11 and 12, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 13 and 14, in the IMU Main Lounge.

Actors, musicians, dancers, designers and technicians transform the Main Lounge of the IMU into the great hall of a make-believe Elizabethan court, where honored guests are welcomed by the King and Queen, served a candle-lit feast and entertained by songs, instrumental music, pageantry and dancing.

The feast, prepared "to the Queen's taste," will feature wassail; apple and watercress sallet with toasted walnuts and apple cider vinaigrette; roste beefe en croute de sel et poivre aux herbes (roast beef in a crust of salt, pepper and herbs); gratin of winter squash with peas and tiny whole onions; rosemary lemon cream custard with candied violets; and country bread with herb butter. A non-beef entree of spinach, cheese, and squash roulade. is also available if ordered in advance.

Serving as host at the court will be Gerald Roe and Myrene Hoover as the King and Queen of Revels, and their Lord Chamberlain, played by theatre arts faculty member Eric Forsythe. The streets of the kingdom, outside the Main Lounge, will be alive with beggars played by Luis Sierra, Evelyn Stanske, and Rex VanDorp, and street peddler Rosemary Clark. Rachael Lindhart will tell fortunes.

Inside the great hall, strolling minstrels in re-creations of Renaissance costumes will charm and delight with their performances. Jester Rob Frisch will entertain, and Tom Bliese, for the 17th year, will amaze audiences with feats of magic before and during dinner.

The UI Madrigal Singers will perform traditional Christmas carols and compositions by European composers of the 16th and 17th centuries. UI School of Music graduate student Dirk Garner will conduct the group. Fourteen madrigal singers and four quartets will entertain guests with a new selection of songs programmed especially for this year's royal feast.

Renaissance courtly dances reconstructed by theatre arts faculty member Rachelle Tsachor, and country dances reconstructed by Mark McCusker and Judith Keefe will be performed to the accompaniment of the "Queen's Consort" instrumental ensemble directed by Ruth Williams. The nobility, always formal and proper, will perform courtly dances, but the servants, giving way to the joyful emotions of the season, will dance with greater abandon.

Ceremonial fanfares performed by a trumpet ensemble directed by Anna Yoder will add to the festive atmosphere.

Madrigal singing began as an entertainment among noble amateurs in Renaissance Italy. It quickly spread throughout Europe, reaching the height of its popularity in Elizabethan England, where several collections of madrigals were printed in Queen Elizabeth's honor.

Throughout upper-class England -- from homes of nobility and wealthy merchants to the royal court -- the singing and dancing of madrigals became a customary part of refined social life.

In private homes, printed music was distributed after the meal and the guests, in a gamelike atmosphere, would challenge one another to sing the latest or most popular madrigals. At the royal court the singing of madrigals became part of elaborate entertainments staged for the queen.

Re-creations of the Elizabethan madrigal evenings, with an emphasis on Christmas carols, have become increasingly popular as part of the holiday celebrations on college campuses and in communities around the United States since the 1960s. Madrigal dinners were first staged at the UI in 1979.

The UI Madrigal Dinners production combines the talents of faculty and students from the UI School of Music and department of theater arts, along with members of the Iowa City community. The original concept and script were created by Marcia Thayer, and the production design is by theatre arts emeritus faculty member David Thayer.

Costumes were designed by Gertrude Storm, Eleanor Bowers, Cindy Kubu and Margaret Wenk of the Performing Arts Production Unit. Stage director is Rachael Lindhart; production manager is David Holcomb. The feast will be prepared under the supervision of Greg Black and chefs Tracy Tonning and Barry Greenberg of the IMU.

Tickets for the 17th annual Elizabethan Madrigal Dinners are $30 and are available from the University Box Office in the IMU. Box Office hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Tickets may be reserved by calling (319) 335-3041, or toll-free in Iowa, 1-800-346-4401. VISA, MasterCard, Discover cards and American Express cards are accepted. Proceeds go to scholarship funds in the School of Music and the department of theatre arts.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events. Persons with a disability who require an accommodation in order to attend the Madrigal Dinners should inform box office personnel of their needs at the time they purchase tickets.