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Release: July 9, 1999

UI Opera Theater presents Benjamin Britten's ‘Albert Herring’ for its summer production

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Opera Theater will present "Albert Herring," Benjamin Britten's wise and gentle comic opera about a small-town boy's rite of passage, in performances at 8 p.m. Friday, July 23, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 25, in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

UI Director of Choral Activities William Hatcher, in his final appearances before he retires from the university, will conduct the performances. Stage direction will be by Stephen Swanson, a member of the voice faculty of the School of Music.

Set designs are by Margaret Wenk of the UI Performing Arts Production Unit. Costumes were designed by Lelia Barton for Casta Diva Costumes. Lighting is by David Thayer, professor emeritus of theatre arts.

"This is a story about universal themes -- growing up in a small town and the conflicts between the generations," Swanson said. "It takes place in Loxford, an English village where the older generation is concerned about the moral decline of the younger.

"It is one of the most successful comic operas I know and one that is just wonderful for the whole family."

As the opera begins, the pompous local busybody Lady Billows and the other leading figures of the town discover there are no suitable candidates for the honor of Queen of the annual May Festival. When the last name has been crossed off the list and Lady Billows laments that there are no virgins in Loxford, Superintendent Budd of the local police responds that "Albert Herring's clean as new-mown hay." And so Albert -- the shy and somewhat backward greengrocer’s assistant -- is chosen as May King.

But his unexpected celebrity and the day’s events convince Albert that he is missing something in life. Inspired by Sid and Nancy, a rebellious young couple who are unrestrained in their enjoyment of life, he takes the prize money and goes "off on a bust," scandalizing the town when he disappears but enjoying himself thoroughly. When the village busybodies try to force him back into the role of mamma’s boy, Albert stands up for his new-found independence, bidding "jolly good riddance" to the May King’s orange-blossom crown as well as his mother’s apron strings.

Swanson said, "This is an ideal show for a group of young singers because everyone has a chance to shine. Each of the characters has a lot of music to sing and has a fully developed stage personality.

"The music is challenging for the singers, both vocally and expressively, and it is accessible for the audience. The ensemble singing is particularly stunning."

The student cast will feature Oliver Stoutner in the title role; LeAnne Foust as Lady Billows; Jeff Kreuger as Mayor Upfold; and Jake Endres and Jennifer Valle as Sid and Nancy. Meg Olsen, Rachel Andrews, Joss Nichols and J.J. Hudson appear as various townspeople of Loxford.

Mrs. Herring, Albert's mother, will be sung by Barbara Buddin, a former student who has appeared in past productions of the Opera Theater, including lead roles in "Carmen," "Il Trovatore," "Cavalleria Rusticana," "Dido and Aeneas" and "Sister Angelica."

Hatcher has served as director of choral activities at the UI School of Music since 1988. During his tenure at the UI he directed the graduate choral conducting program, conducted choral ensembles in the School of Music and frequently appeared as music director of productions by the UI Opera Theater.

He was national president of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) 1991-93, and presently is chair of the ACDA Endowment Trust. Prior to coming to Iowa he taught at UCLA, the University of Washington and Pasadena City College.

In the fall of 1996, his UI Kantorei participated in an International Choral Competition in Tolosa, Spain. 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.

In 1990 Kantorei performed the Mozart "Requiem" with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and other orchestras in the former Soviet Union, and also gave concerts in Russia, Estonia and Finland. Kantorei has also performed for regional and national conventions of the ACDA in 1992 and 1993.

Hatcher's concert tours with other collegiate ensembles have included Europe, Greece, the British Isles, Canada, Hawaii and the western United States. In 1985 his UCLA choir was selected as the sole U.S. representative and was a prizewinner at the International Competition for Choirs in Spittal, Austria. Hatcher was also coordinator and assistant director of the 1,000-voice Olympic Honor Chorus, which sang for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, an event telecast to more than two billion people worldwide.

Hatcher has published materials on choral skills and choral arrangements, and he appears frequently as a choral clinician and festival choir director.

Swanson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music in 1994. For nearly 20 years before that date he had an active operatic career in Europe. During that time his repertoire grew to 91 roles in opera, operetta and musicals. He has sung on German, Austrian and Dutch radio broadcasts and has been a featured soloist in European festivals including the Berliner Festwochen, the Days of Contemporary Music in Dresden and the Festa Musica Pro in Assisi, Italy.

Swanson recently took part in the Viktor Ullman-Projekt 1998, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of a composer who died in the Nazi death camps. Swanson sang major roles in Ullman's operas "Der zerbrochene Krug" and "Der Kaiser von Atlantis" at performances in Europe, at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and at the Martyr's Museum in Los Angeles.

Swanson has also had an extensive career as a concert singer, appearing as featured soloist with many U.S. orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony under Sir Georg Solti, Raphael Fruehbeck de Burgos and Margaret Hillis. He has recorded Mendelssohn's "St. Paul" and Ullmann's "Der Kaiser von Atlantis." Since coming to Iowa City, he has appeared in UI Opera Theater productions and performances of the Chamber Singers of Iowa City.

Swanson holds undergraduate degrees from North Park College in Chicago and a master's degree in music from Northwestern University. He made his professional debut in 1970, singing in Arnold Schoenberg's opera "Moses and Aron" with the Chicago Symphony in Chicago and
New York's Carnegie Hall.

Tickets for "Albert Herring" are $12 ($7 for UI students, youth under 18 and senior citizens), and are available from the Hancher Auditorium Box Office. Hancher summer box office 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.

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