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Release: Nov. 17, 2000

University of Iowa Opera Theater kicks off 'A Year of Comedy' with one-acts Dec. 7-9

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Martha Ellen Tye Opera Theater will kick off "A Year of Comedy" with performances of two one-act operas -- "La canterina" (The singer) by Joseph Haydn and "La serva padrona" (The maid as mistress) by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi -- at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 7-9, in Theatre B of the UI Theatre Building.

The performances will also include "Introductions and Goodbyes" by Lukas Foss, a 9-minute comic "curtain-raiser" presented in the lobby of the Theatre Building before each performance.

The cast will feature students in the UI School of Music. Stage direction will be by Sally Stunkel, the director of the UI Opera Theater. Musical accompaniment will be provided by pianist Shari Rhoads, the new vocal coach and musical director of the Opera Theater.

An experienced vocal coach with an extensive career in European opera houses, Rhoads joined the UI faculty in August. These performances will be her debut with the Opera Theater.

"It is safe to say Rhoads has coached most of the great singers of our time, and the opera department of the School of Music is thrilled to add such experience and depth to our program," Stunkel said.

The year-long emphasis on comic opera will continue in the spring semester, with performances April 27 and 29 of "Tartuffe," a contemporary setting by American composer Kirke Meechem of the classic comic play by Moliere.

In "La canterina," the aspiring, young soprano Gasparina plays with the affections and the gifts of the men in her life: the rich Don Ettore, who is always bearing gifts, and her voice teacher Don Pelagio, who has given her all her basic necessities of life. Her equally ambitious stage mother Apollonia tries desperately to keep Gasparina’s business affairs in order. When the men discover Gasparina’s deception and the mother and daughter are threatened with expulsion from their home, the young soprano uses all her theatrical skills to try to overact her way out of trouble.

The role of Gasparina will be sung by soprano Lisa Kotara and Apollonia by soprano Amanda Hyberger. Don Ettore -- a "pants role," where a woman sings the part of a man -- will be performed by soprano Alison Leaheey. Tenor Jeff Kruger will be Don Pelagio.

Based on the Italian comedia dell’arte tradition of improvised comedy, "La serva padrona" is considered to be a work of great genius and originality. It helped create the style of Italian comic opera, or "opera buffa," and it introduced the prototypes for many great comic operas that followed: the wily servant who easily outwits his or her simple-minded master.

The plot, though easily described, unfolds with many hilarious twist and turns: the maid Serpina runs the house as a servant but she wants to be mistress. She is aided by Vespone, a fellow servant, as she tricks their master, Uberto, into marriage. Soprano Sarah Schmidt as Serpina and baritone James Haas as Uberto have the major singing roles. The role of Vespone will be performed by UI theatre arts student Aaron Galbraith, who also has a part in "La canterina."

"Introductions and Goodbyes" will feature seven student performers -- Edward Corpus, Michael Shelledy, Christine Hayes, Rachel Lebeck, Clark Sturdevant, Jacqueline Lang and Chad Graham -- as well as two "mystery performers."

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, Skylight Opera, the Aspen Music Festival, Kentucky Opera and Four Corners Opera. She has more than 70 productions to her credit, including straight theater as well as opera. She headed the opera programs at the former 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. 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, Chautauqua Opera, the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, and the Aspen Music Festival.

Rhoads earned her degree in accompanying and has completed post-graduate studies in opera coaching/conducting at the University of Southern California. Before arriving at the UI she taught music history in Lucerne and Lausanne in Switzerland. She has also been Kapellmeister at the Lucerne Theater and conductor/coach at the opera theater in Darmstadt, Germany. She was coach at the Barcelona and Madrid opera theaters.

Her accompanying credentials include recitals with Jose Carreras, Luis Lima and Montserrat Caballe with whom she worked exclusively as coach/accompanist and orchestrator. She has accompanied master classes with a number of renowned artists and served as staff accompanist for the Francesco Vinas (Barcelona, Spain) and Munich International competitions.

Tickets for the Opera Theater performances Dec. 7-9 will be $11, $7 for UI students, seniors and youth 18 and under. They will be available from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 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.

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.

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