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UI Opera Theater will present Gounod's 'Romeo and Juliet' as spring production May 1-3

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Opera Theater will present French composer Charles Gounod's operatic version of the Shakespearean classic "Romeo and Juliet" for its spring production with the opening performance at 8 p.m. Friday, May 1 and matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 2 and 3 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

William LaRue Jones, in his first year as director of the University Symphony, will be making his first campus appearance conducting in the orchestra pit. Stage director will be Beaumont Glass, the director of the UI Opera Theater since 1980.

The performance will feature a cast of students from the UI School of Music. The performance will be sung in English in a translation adapted by Glass.

To introduce "Romeo and Juliet" to young people who are not familiar with opera, Glass will host a dress rehearsal that will be open to area high school and university students at 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 30 in Clapp Recital Hall. The dress rehearsal is free with advance reservations, which can be made through the UI Arts Share program by calling (319) 335-1618. Glass will present a brief lecture about the opera before the beginning of the rehearsal.

One of the best known and most loved of all of Shakespeare's plays, "Romeo and Juliet" has also been one of the most popular subjects for musical settings. There are many versions over the past two centuries, including Leonard Bernstein's 1957 Broadway hit musical "West Side Story," as well as a "Dramatic Symphony" by Hector Berlioz (1839), a lushly Romantic "Fantasy Overture" by Tchaikovsky (1869) and a ballet by Prokofiev(1938).

Operatic versions of "Romeo and Juliet" -- from as early as 1776 up to the present -- have been too numerous to count, but the only one to hold the stage has been Gounod's, to a libretto by the highly successful team of Barbier and Carre. It was first performed with an all-star cast at the Theatre Lyrique (Lyric Theater) in Paris in 1867 with performances in London and New York later the same year.

With its combination of beautiful love scenes and exciting sword fights, "Romeo and Juliet" has been popular with audiences. The score includes one popular aria, Juliet's "Waltz Song," which was added as an afterthought when a prima donna singing Juliet requested a sure-fire hit to sing.

The opera follows Shakespeare's plot closely. A brief prologue is followed by six scenes: the ballroom where Romeo and Juliet meet, the famous balcony scene where they express their love, their wedding in the cell of Friar Laurence, the street where Mercutio and Tybalt fight their fatal duel and Romeo is sentenced to banishment, Juliet's bedroom where the lovers spend their only night together, and the tomb where they are finally united in death.

The one difference from the play is the opera's ending, which adopts a version that originated with the popular productions of 18th-century British actor/director David Garrick. In this version of the play -- which was the only one known to most 19th-century audiences -- Juliet awakens from her death-like trance before Romeo dies. The lovers have a brief reunion -- and in the opera, one last duet -- before the poison takes effect and Romeo dies.

Students cast in the title roles will be Ezechial Thurman (performances of May 1 and 3) and John Des Marais (performance of May 2) as Romeo, Solveig Olsen (May 1 and 3) and Danielle Hurt (May 2) as Juliet. Other leading roles will be: Jeffrey Fields as Lord Capulet; Gary Haase (May 1 and 3) and Colin Johnson (May 2) as Friar Laurence; J.S. Endres (May 1 and 3) and Joss Nichols (May 2) as Mercutio; Jeffrey Krueger (May 1 and 3) and Matthew Curl (May 2) as Tybalt; Jennifer Valle (May 1 and 3) and Danielle Phillips (May 2) as Stephano, Romeo's page -- a role created by the librettist for the opera; and Erika Webb as Gertrude, Juliet's nurse.

Scenery design will be by Margaret Wenk. Costumes from Cast Diva, Inc., were designed by Lelia Barton. Lighting design will be by David Thayer. Dance choreography will be Cherie Noble and fight choreography will be by Stephen Swanson. Chorus director is Dirk Garner.

Tickets for "Romeo and Juliet" are $12 ($7 for UI students, youth and seniors) and are available from the Hancher Auditorium box office. 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 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 Hancher purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select 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.

A UI music alumnus, Jones joined the faculty of the School of Music in 1997 as director of the University Symphony and director of orchestral studies. He replaced James Dixon, the director of the orchestra for more than 40 years, who retired at the end of the 1996-97 academic year. Prior to joining the UI faculty, Jones was the founding music director/administrator of the internationally recognized Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.

Jones is a highly honored musician, having received the Twin Cities Mayors' Public Art Award, the American String Teachers Association Exceptional Leadership and Merit Award and the David W. Preuss Leadership Award. He has appeared as a guest conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Sinfonie Orchester AML-Luzern (Switzerland) and other orchestras around the world.

Beaumont Glass was for many years a leading opera coach of the Zurich Opera and the Festival of Aix-en-Provence. 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. At the UI he has staged 34 major productions and provided his own translations of 20 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, the second volume in 1997. He was the UI Presidential Lecturer in 1988. He has been a frequent guest on the New York radio program "Opera Fanatic" and directs opera performances presented by the Cedar Rapids Symphony.