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Release: June 30, 2000

UI Opera Theater brings Gilbert & Sullivan's madcap 'Yeomen' to the stage July 14-16

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Martha Ellen Tye Opera Theater will present Gilbert and Sullivan's "Yeomen of the Guard" -- a comic operetta about the famed "Beefeaters" of the Tower of London -- as their summer production, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 14 and 15, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 16 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

The production will be stage directed by Sally Stunkel, the director of the Opera Theater. William LaRue Jones will conduct the performances, which will feature set design by Margaret Wenk. The cast will include faculty and students from the UI School of Music.

"Yeomen of the Guard" was conceived in 1887 during the Golden Jubilee celebrating Queen Victoria's 50 years on the English throne. Gilbert and Sullivan were the leading entertainers of the day, but they had not been able to agree on a plot for a new operetta to be part of the jubilee. One of their previous operettas was revived, but the public wanted a new show.

One day Gilbert -- the literary half of the team -- was standing in a London train station when he happened to see a poster for the Tower Furnishing Company, showing a scarlet-and-gold-uniformed "Beefeater" in front of the Tower of London. In that instant, the idea for the new operetta began to take form -- a tribute to the great age of Victoria, placed in the great age of Elizabeth I and featuring the Tower Warders -- the Beefeaters, whose resplendent Tudor uniforms were instantly recognizable.

Fortunately the persnickety Sullivan loved the story, which he described in his diary as "very human, and funny also." The two men set to work, and the new show, "The Yeomen of the Guard, or the Merryman and his Maid," opened in October, 1888 to public and critical acclaim.

"Its success was tremendous," Sullivan wrote in his dairy. "Everything went on wheels, and I think its success is even greater than 'The Mikado.'"

The operetta is about the hilarious confusion that reigns inside the infamous Tower of London when a condemned prisoner seems to have vanished into thin air, leaving the executioner standing at his block.

The missing man is Colonel Fairfax, who twice saved the life of Sergeant Meryll, a retired Beefeater who still lives at the Tower of London with his family. In delightful Gilbert & Sullivan fashion, multiple complications ensue: Meryll's daughter Phoebe is loved by Wilfred, the "head jailer and assistant tormentor," who is held responsible for the disappearance of the prisoner, who has just been secretly married to Elsie, a strolling singer, who in turn is loved by Jack, a wandering jester.

And on and on the complications ensue -- but not too much to be resolved by show's end, all to the strains of Sullivan's charming, witty music.

Two of the major characters will be sung by UI School of Music faculty members: Fairfax, the prisoner, by tenor Matthew Castle, and Wilfred Shadbolt, the head jailer, by baritone John Muriello.

The other male lead, Sgt. Meryll, will be sung by bass-baritone George McTyre, a guest artist with the Opera Theater.

Other major roles will be taken by graduate students in the UI School of Music. Meryll's daughter will be sung by Ann Cravero, who was recently featured as Hansel in the UI production of "Hansel and Gretel." Jack and Elsie will be sung by Joss Nichols and Ashley Stockwell, who sang the romantic couple in the musical "She Loves Me" during the last fall semester. And Dame Carruthers, housekeeper of the Tower, will be sung by Rachel Andrews.

Other creative contributions to the production include lighting design by Kelly Perkins-Smith and musical preparation by Castle.

A newcomer to the Iowa City area, McTyre has sung numerous roles in opera, operetta and musical comedy. He sang operatic roles on tour with the National Opera Company, he sang Gilbert and Sullivan with the Lyric Opera of Dallas and the Durham (N.C.) Savoyards, and he sang musical theater with Waco (Tex.) Summer Musicals, the North Carolina Theater and the Triangle Dinner Theater, among others.

McTyre holds a bachelor's degree in vocal performance from Southern Methodist University and a master's from Baylor University. He sang both operatic and musical theater roles in university productions, and he has also sung many concert and oratorio performances.

An accomplished singer, writer and teacher, Castle is serving as visiting coach-accompanist for the UI Opera Theater. His singing roles in opera and musical comedy have included Henrik Egerman in "A Little Night Music," Nemorino in "The Elixir Of Love," Edvard Grieg in "Song Of Norway," Archibald Craven in "The Secret Garden," Marco Palmieri in "The Gondoliers" and Rooster in "Annie," as well as dozens of cabaret and dinner theater appearances.

As an accompanist, Castle has played in hundreds of recitals and theatrical productions. He also has extensive experience as a musical director, with credits in professional, university, community, and school theaters. His compositions represent many genres, ranging from chamber music to musical theater and opera. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., and a master's degree from Northern Illinois University.

A singer whose work ranges from opera and operetta to concert and musical theater, Muriello joined the UI School of Music faculty in the fall of 1997. His most recent engagements include performances as Captain Corcoran in "H.M.S. Pinafore" and Nathan Hershkowits in "Rags" for Seaside Music Theater. In the fall of 1998 he made his directing debut with the UI School of Music production of the musical comedy "The Fantasticks," and he directed the 1999 School of Music production of "She Loves Me."

Muriello has performed operatic and musical theater roles with Opera Carolina, the Banff Centre in Canada, L'Opera Francais of New York, Skylight Opera Theater, Ohio Light Opera and the Southeastern Savoyards of Atlanta. He performed as the Narrator and Mysterious Man in Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and Marcello in "La Boheme" for Lyric Opera Cleveland. Other roles have ranged from Guglielmo in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" to Voltaire in Bernstein's "Candide."

Stunkel was appointed director of UI Opera Theater in the fall of 1999. She has directed for many American opera companies, including Sacramento Opera, Tulsa Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, the Aspen Music Festival and Kentucky Opera. She has more than 70 productions to her credit, including straight theater as well as opera. She headed the opera programs at the St. Louis Conservatory of Music, the University of Tennessee and the University of the Pacific in California.

Stunkel has performed both as an opera singer, performing with the Colorado Springs Opera, Skylight Opera and Baltimore Opera, and as an actor in spoken plays, having portrayed Amanda in "The Glass Menagerie" and Eleanor of Aquitaine in "The Lion in Winter." With more than 15 years of dance training, she has also choreographed several productions.

Known for her expertise in teaching acting to opera singers, Stunkel has taught in the apprentice programs at the Des Moines Metro Opera, Chatauqua Opera, the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, and the Aspen Music Festival.

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. 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 also been selected Musician of the Year by Sigma Alpha Iota, a music honorary society.

Tickets for "Yeomen of the Guard" are $12 for adults, $7 for UI students, seniors and youth, and are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Remaining tickets for each performance will be on sale in the Clapp Recital Hall lobby one hour before curtain time.

Hancher box office summer hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays. From the local calling area, dial 335-1160. Long distance 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. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at <>.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 335-1158. This line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

For information on UI arts events, visit on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at