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University of Iowa News Release

June 24, 2005

UI Opera Theater Offers Sit-Com Operas For Summer July 8-10

The University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater will present two classic comic operas for its summer production, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 8 and 9, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 10 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

The double bill of "The Secret of Susanna" by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari and "Gianni Schicchi" by Giacomo Puccini combines two of the world's most popular comic operas, creating a light-hearted evening of summer family entertainment.

The productions will be stage directed by Gary Race, director of the Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater. William LaRue Jones, director of orchestral studies at the UI School of Music, will be music director for the performances. Scenery and costume coordination is by Margaret Wenk of the Division of Performing Art Production Unit, with scenic design by Lisa Schlenker, lighting by Laurel Shoemaker and costumes by Joffrey Olson.

The production will feature music faculty member Stephen Swanson in the title role of "Gianni Schicchi." Other roles will be taken by UI students and members of the local community.

"These operas are like the birth of situation comedy -- it's just like a TV comedy," Race commented. "We had a conversation with the cast of 'The Secret of Susanna' that it is just like one of the old Lucy shows. And I think 'Gianni Schicchi' is a lot like an episode of 'All in the Family,' with these family members and their complicated relationships."

"With a cast of only three in one and more than a dozen in the other, the operas are different in some obvious ways, but the style of the comedy is very familiar and very accessible, and people will have a blast with it. We are!"

"The Secret of Susanna" calls for only three cast members -- Susanna, her husband and a servant. It is a classic domestic farce, with the husband becoming ridiculously enraged, suspecting his wife of infidelity, while in fact her secret turns out to be innocuous.

A German-Italian composer of the early 20th century, Wolf-Ferrari is remembered for relatively few works, of which "The Secret of Susanna" is the best known. He wrote in a late-Romantic style similar to the "versimo" composers Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo and Puccini.

"The music is really beautiful and fun," Race said. "People may not know this score, but I think they will be surprised and delighted when they hear how wonderful it is."

"Gianni Schicchi" is a farce of a different kind, with a large cast of characters that literally seem to trip over each other throughout. The plot concerns a family's fight over an inheritance -- a fight so bitter that only the rogue Gianni Schicchi can resolve it. Schicchi does so -- but not as the family members hope! He uses the greedy relatives' underhanded scheming against them, and ends up with the largest share of the inheritance himself.

Puccini is best known for his tragic operas -- "La Boheme," "Tosca" and "Madama Butterfly" being the best known. "Gianni Schicchi" features the same kind of melodious writing, including one aria that is on all the Puccini highlights albums. "O mio bambino caro," sung by Schicchi's daughter, melts her father's heart -- and that of most audience members as well.

The cast of "The Secret of Susanna" will be Colleen Jennings as Susanna, Michael Krzankowski as her doubting husband and Jeffrey Bieber as the servant.

"Gianni Schicchi" will feature, in addition to Swanson, Kelsey Williams as Lauretta, Schicchi's daughter; and Quiliano Anderson as Rinuccio, her beloved and the nephew of the deceased, Buoso Donati. Other Donati family members will be played by Edward Corpus, Maja Lisa FritzHuspen, George McTyre, Lacretta Ross, Christopher Thompson, Adam Webb and Heather Youngquist. The deceased Donati will be performed by Nick Hotek, and the child Gherardino by Cole Hotek. Others in the cast will be Adam Kirchner, Robert Kemp and Jeffrey Butler.

Gary Race came to the UI from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he served as director of opera for six years. He was also artistic director of Lyric Opera Cleveland for two seasons. His 30-plus years of experience include the direction of more than 100 productions for regional companies including Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati Opera, Tri-Cities Opera, Whitewater Opera, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Utah Opera. In 1994 he made his European debut directing "Madame Butterfly" for the Stadtheater Lueneburg in Germany.

As an educator Race has presented workshops on performance techniques for opera singers in colleges and universities across the country, including Carnegie-Mellon, Cornell, Duquesne, Syracuse, Miami University, Ithaca College, and the University of Maryland at College Park. He has created and directed arts education programs for many opera companies, for Gateway to the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh, and the National Symphony Orchestra, where he continues to serve as an education consultant.

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 has also had an extensive career as a concert singer, appearing as featured soloist with many U.S. orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony under Sir Georg Solti, Raphael Fruehbeck de Burgos and Margaret Hillis. He has recorded Mendelssohn's "St. Paul" and Ullmann's "Der Kaiser von Atlantis." Since coming to Iowa City, he has presented solo recitals, appeared in and directed UI Opera Theater productions, and performed with the Chamber Singers of Iowa City.

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 has appeared as a guest conductor with a wide array of professional, festival, collegiate and student ensembles throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia, ranging from the Minnesota Orchestra and the Minneapolis Pops to the Penang (Malaysia) Symphony, the Antofagasta (Chili) Symphony and the Symphony Orchestra of Lucerne (Switzerland). Jones has conducted more than 70 all-state orchestras with additional festival/clinics in most of the 50 states and Canadian provinces.

He has served extended conducting residencies at the North Carolina School for the Arts, the University of Miami, Interlochen Academy for the Arts and Kansas City Conservatory. He also is the founding artistic director of the critically acclaimed Conductors Workshop of America. In addition to serving as guest clinician for numerous conducting seminars for professional/educational associations internationally, Jones is music director and conductor of the Oshkosh (Wis.) Symphony.

Tickets to the Opera Theater comedy double bill are $20 ($16 for seniors, and $10 for UI students and youth under 18) and are available from the Hancher Auditorium Box Office. Hancher Box Office is open 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. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website, www.hancher.uiowa.edu.

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.

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

For information on UI arts events, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at http://www.uiowa.edu/~music/. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <ur-acr@uiowa.edu>.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Peter Alexander, 319-384-0072, peter-alexander@uiowa.edu

PHOTOS are available at http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa/photos.html.