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Release: April 6, 2001

UI Opera Theater to present 'Tartuffe' April 27-29

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater will present Kirke Mechem's "Tartuffe," an opera based on the classic Moliere comedy, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 29, in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the UI Theatre Building.

The title role will be taken by baritone John Muriello from the UI School of Music faculty, a veteran of opera, operetta and musical theater who has attracted a devoted local following.

One of the most popular American operas ever, "Tartuffe" has had more than 200 productions since its 1980 premiere in San Francisco, and it has been performed around the world in English, German, Russian, Japanese, and even Mandarin Chinese. A lavish production by the Mussorgsky National Theater of St. Petersburg, Russia -- funded by a grant from a foundation founded by the Grateful Dead -- ran for three years.

The play and the opera alike are based on one of the oldest plot kernels in literature, theater and opera -- a hard-headed father who tries to force his daughter to marry a man she despises. In this case the unwelcome suitor is Tartuffe, possibly the greatest hypocrite in all literature. Claiming to be a man of high moral principles, Tartuffe is in reality a cunning lecher, cheat, thief, liar and fraud who hoodwinks the unwilling girl's wealthy father, Orgon, in order to seduce Orgon's wife and make off with the family's riches.

Orgon's family sees through Tartuffe's hypocrisy, but their attempt to unmask his true character backfires. Tartuffe's show of sanctity so blinds Orgon that he orders his son from his home and deeds his house and goods over to Tartuffe. When a second plot finally reveals Tartuffe's treachery, it seems that the game is up, but Tartuffe merely shakes the deed of gift at Orgon and says

"It's you, not I, who has to leave!" Only a last-minute reversal saves the day for Orgon, who finally confesses his foolishness, embraces his family and allows his daughter to marry her preferred suitor.

The production of "Tartuffe" will be directed by Sally Stunkel, the director of the Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater, and the University Symphony will be conducted by William LaRue Jones.

Mezzo-soprano Melissa Malde, a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Colorado and former faculty at Luther College in Decorah, will perform as a guest artist, in the role of Orgon's wife, Elmire. UI graduate Barbara Buddin will perform the role of Orgon's mother, Madame Pernelle.

Other members of the cast will be UI music students: Stephanie Thorpe as Orgon's daughter, Mariane; Michael Shelledy as Orgon's son, Damis; Maria Gimenez as Mariane's maid, Dorime; Edward Corpus as Orgon; and Lawrence Reppert as Mariane's fiance, Valerie.

Set and costume design are by Margaret Wenk of the Division of Performing Arts. Production Unit. Lighting design is by Laurel Shoemaker. Musical preparation is by Opera Theater coach/accompanist Shari Rhoads.

Though scarcely a household name, Mechem writes music that is flowing, melodious, dramatic and highly accessible. He is also known for his use of clever musical quotations and parodies. In "Tartuffe" these range from suggestions of Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky to exact quotation of the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony -- followed by the line, "Sounds like fate knocking at the door."

Mechem wrote of composing "Tartuffe," "Moliere had fun with language and so did I. He invented words, he punned, and he told literary purists that the end of comedy was to please -- that his success was his justification. I have taken the same attitude as composer. The score abounds in musical jokes, parody, caricature, even musical puns.

"The composer cannot, of course, be his own judge. I can say only that I have tried, like Yeats, 'to rediscover an art of the theatre which shall be joyful, fantastic, extravagant, whimsical, beautiful, resonant and altogether reckless.' It sounds like a good description of Moliere."

Muriello joined the UI School of Music faculty in the fall of 1997. His engagements include several performances as with the Skylight Opera Theatre in Milwaukee and most recently in Riverside Theatre's production of "Sweet and Hot." In the fall of 1998 he made his directing debut with the UI production of the musical comedy "The Fantasticks," and he directed UI productions of "She Loves Me" in 1999 and "Yeomen of the Guard" in 2000.

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 has also performed in concert and recital throughout the Midwest and the Southeast.

Buddin sang many leading roles with the UI Opera Theater while she was a student in the School of Music, including the title role in Bizet's "Carmen" in 1989. Other major roles were in the UI Opera Theater productions of "The Elixir of Love," "The Gondoliers," "Dialogues of the Carmelites" and "Il Trovatore." She has performed frequently with the Quad City Symphony. She taught at Kirkwood Community College and currently teaches private voice lessons.

Malde has performed throughout the United States, including appearances with Opera Colorado, the Kentucky Opera, the Ohio Light Opera, the Bangor Symphony, the Cedar Rapids Symphony, the Dorian Opera Theatre and the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre. She has performed in Germany and sung with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and the Prague Radio Symphony.

Malde holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory, the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and the Munich Conservatory. While in Munich she won first prize in the Kulturforum Competition. She also won the Cincinnati Conservatory's Concerto Contest, Chicago's Sudler Oratorio Competition, a Farwell Award and the Brice-Gooter Award from the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Malde taught at Luther College in Decorah for five years before returning to her home state of Colorado.

Stunkel was appointed director of UI Opera Theater in the fall of 1999. She has directed for many American opera companies, including the Sacramento Opera, the Tulsa Opera, the Opera Theater of St. Louis, the Skylight Opera, the Aspen Music Festival, the Kentucky Opera and the 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, having recently 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, the Chautauqua Opera, the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, and the Aspen Music Festival. She was a co-founder/director/writer for The Opera Parade and Kinderopera, two touring educational opera companies for children in Maryland.

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 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. He has conducted all-state and festival orchestras in 46 states and five Canadian provinces.

Tickets for "Tartuffe" are $15 ($8 for UI students, senior citizens and youth 18 and under) and are available from the Hancher Auditorium Box Office.

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. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at <>.

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.

The School of Music and the Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater are part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts.

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