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Release: July 6, 2001

UI Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater presents an Iowa 'Elixir of Love' July 20-22

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater will transplant one of the staples of 19th-century Italian comic opera to turn-of-the-century Iowa when they present Donizetti’s "Elixir of Love," at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 20 and 21, and at
2 p.m. Sunday, July 22, in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

The production will be directed by Stephen Swanson, a member of the faculty of the UI School of Music. The University Symphony will be conducted by UI doctoral conducting student Lucia Matos. The performances will be sung in English.

The story of the opera, which concerns a shy farm boy, a travelling quack medicine salesman and a regiment of soldiers, was originally placed in the Italian countryside. The UI production moves the story to a turn-of-the-century Iowa farm, complete with a Victorian-style farm house and period costumes.

Swanson said that the decision to move the opera from Italy to Iowa was an easy one to make: "When we started work on this production, parallels between the work that Donizetti placed in rural Italy and rural Iowa jumped out at us. The traveling patent medicine salesman is almost a rural American cliche. Old Fort Des Moines made a beautiful rationale for the soldiers. And the presence of Italian-American immigrants in Iowa eliminated the problem of justifying the characters’ Italian names."

Tampering with the locale, time and story of operas has become popular among opera directors. "It’s become a trend for opera productions to transplant the story into different times and places," Swanson said. "Sometimes directors make changes like this to point out universal themes in the opera, to help the audience relate to the story, or because they have become bored working within traditional settings.

"In our case, we made the decision to play ‘The Elixir of Love’ in late 19th-century because it seemed like fun. It’s fun for us, and I’m sure that the audience will enjoy the Iowa setting. The opera deals with a universal theme -- the relationship between a shy young man and the woman he falls in love with -- and it just makes a great Iowa story."

Together with Rossini and Bellini, Donizetti was one of the three leading Italian composers of the early 19th century, an era now known as the age of "bel canto," or beautiful song. At that time opera was both popular entertainment and big business, much like Broadway theater today. "Bel canto" implies cultivation of vocal virtuosity and a smooth and graceful melodic line.

Donizetti is said to have composed "The Elixir of Love" in two weeks early in 1832. The opera was premiered in Milan on May 12 of that year.

In the opera, Nemorino, a bashful country boy, falls desperately in love with the wealthy, sophisticated and beautiful Adina. He is content to worship Adina from afar until a regiment of soldiers arrives, led by the dashing Sgt. Belcore.

Seeing Belcore pay court to Adina, Nemorino turns for help to Dulcamara, a travelling "doctor" who offers remedies for all ailments, even love. The naive lover eagerly buys a flask of cheap wine, which the quack promises will enable him to win Adina’s heart within 24 hours.

Dulcamara’s magical elixir has an effect at once, as Nemorino loses his inhibitions, begins to sing and dance -- and appears to forget all about Adina! She is so annoyed at Nemorino’s antics that she agrees on the spot to marry Belcore. At first she is vague about the date, but an order for Belcore’s regiment to leave forces her to agree to an immediate wedding.

In desperation, Nemorino joins Belcore’s regiment in order to finance another bottle of elixir. Just when things seem bleakest for the country boy, in true comic-opera fashion a last-minute reversal of fortune saves the day. And Dulcamara is able to sell out his entire stock of "elixir" before making a hasty, and very prudent, getaway.

For the performances of Friday, July 20, and Sunday, July 22, the cast will feature Amanda Hyberger as Adina, Lawrence Reppert as Nemorino, Edward Corpus as Dulcamara, Michael Shelledy as Belcore and Jacqueline Lang as Giannetta.

The performance on Saturday, July 21 will feature Stephanie Thorpe as Adina, Jeffery Krueger as Nemorino, George McTyre as Dulcamara, Adam Lewis as Belcore and Rachel Lebeck as Giannetta.

Scenic design for "The Elixir of Love" is by Margaret Wenk of the UI Division of Performing Arts.

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. Since coming to Iowa City, he has appeared in UI Opera Theater productions and performances of the Chamber Singers of Iowa City, as well as solo faculty recitals.

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.

Lucia Matos was born in Ourinhos, S.P, Brazil. She received a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Campinas, Brazil. From 1997 to 1998 she worked as assistant conductor at the Campinas Symphony Orchestra and University of Campinas Symphony Orchestra. In 1998 she was awarded with a Brazilian scholarship from CAPES for continuing her studies. She received a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the UI, and she is currently completing the requirements for a doctorate as a student of UI Symphony conductor William LaRue Jones. She has conducted the Des Moines Symphony, Americana Symphony and Campinas Symphony Orchestra.

Tickets for "The Elixir of Love" are $18 ($10 for UI students, senior citizens and youth 18 and under) and are available from the Hancher Auditorium Box Office.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays. 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. 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. The production of "The Elixir of Love" is supported in part by a gift from the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation, through the University of Iowa Foundation.

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