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Release: March 26, 1999

Muriello combines French art songs, American love songs on April 8 recital

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Baritone John Muriello will perform both French art songs and a group of American songs about love on a University of Iowa faculty recital at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 8 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

Muriello will perform with pianist Darlene Lawrence. Their performance will be free and open to the public.

For the first, more "serious," half of the recital program, Muriello and Lawrence will perform two cycles of songs, "Le Promenoir des deux amants" (The promenade of two lovers) by Claude Debussy and "Histoires naturelles" (Natural histories) by Maurice Ravel. The second half of the program, lightheartedly titled "Blah Blah Blah and other songs about love," will feature works by a variety of American composers, including George and Ira Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, Marc Blitzstein and William Bolcom.

Also included will be three songs by composer Richard Pearson Thomas, who accompanied Muriello in his previous faculty recital at the UI last March. Together they presented a program of Thomas' works, including an abridged version of Charles Dickens' familiar "A Christmas Carol."

The combination of European art songs with American Broadway and pop styles, as unconventional as it is for voice recitals, is a natural for Muriello. A classically trained singer, he has appeared professionally in performances from opera and oratorio to musical comedy, and previous appearances at the UI have spanned an equally wide range of styles.

Typifying his versatility, Muriello performed last summer for Lyric Opera Cleveland as the Narrator and Mysterious Man in Sondheim's musical "Into the Woods" and Marcello in the traditionally operatic "La Boheme," and he most recently sang the role of the Sacristan in Cedar Rapids Opera Theater's performances of "Tosca." Last fall he made his directing debut with the UI School of Music production of the musical comedy "The Fantasticks."

Debussy's "Promenoir" cycle is based on fragments of an elegiac poem by Tristan L'Hermite, a 17th-century courtier and writer who is considered a precursor to the 19th- and 20th-century Symbolist poets. In the short cycle, the poet describes a pastoral scene, then invites his beloved to share the sublime beauty of the moment. Afraid that his ardor might destroy the delicate moment, he merely asks for a token of her love by allowing him to drink from her hands. Debussy's music, Muriello says, "exquisitely captures the elegance and preciosity of the language of the poem."

Ravel's cycle created a scandal at its premiere in 1907. With text settings that use the inflections and elisions of everyday French speech, the songs were attacked by critics for their lack of traditional melody. The five songs were selected by Ravel from more than 80 poems in Jules Renard's "Histoires naturelles," published in 1896 and later illustrated by Toulouse-Lautrec and Bonnard. Ravel set the texts realistically, with careful musical characterizations of the animals portrayed in the texts: the peacock, cricket, swan, kingfisher and guinea hen.

The "songs about love" of the second half of Muriello's program cover a wide range of moods and light musical styles. They include "Blah Blah Blah" -- the song that gives this portion of the program its provocative name -- by George and Ira Gershwin, the classic Rodgers and Hart "Bewitched," Stephen Sondheim's very contemporary and neurotically inflected"The-God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me-Oh-You-Do-I'll-See-You-Later-Blues," Thomas' lighthearted riffs on romance, and another half dozen songs as well.

Muriello joined the UI School of Music faculty in the fall of 1997. He has performed operatic and musical theater roles with Opera Carolina, the Banff Centre in Canada, L'Opera Francais of New York, Skylight Opera Theater, Lyric Opera Cleveland, Ohio Light Opera, Seaside Music Theater and the Southeastern Savoyards of Atlanta. His roles have ranged from Guglielmo in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" to Voltaire in Bernstein's "Candide."

He has performed in concert and recital throughout the Midwest and the Southeast, singing in performances of Vaughan Williams' "Five Mystical Songs" and "Hodie," the Brahms "Requiem" and the Bach Mass in B minor.

He was a winner in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions in North Carolina, in the Washington International Competition and the Louise D. McMahon International Song Competition in Oklahoma, and toured two seasons with the Mantovani Orchestra.

Lawrence received her doctorate from the University of Southern California. She has accompanied many prominent California artists and has toured under the management of Sol Hurok. She has served as accompanist for the Oregon Bach Festival with noted conductor Helmuth Rilling and was selected to accompany the 1,000-voice choir for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

In addition to her work as an accompanist, Lawrence is a published composer/arranger, and she has worked as a studio singer in film, television and the recording industry. Since 1989 she has been on the faculty of the UI School of Music, where she teaches song literature and is coach/accompanist in the voice and opera areas.

Thomas has composed extensively for theater, concert and film. In addition to performances by the Boston Pops and the Convent Garden Festival, his theatrical works have been staged by Houston Grand Opera, Chautauqua Opera, the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, the Banff Centre and the Skylight Opera Theatre. His music for "What Became Known as . . . the Eleanor Affair" was awarded the prize for "Best Original Score" at the 1997 NYU Film Festival and his off-off Broadway musical, "Ladies in a Maze" was produced by Encompass Music Theatre.