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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 21, 2006

UI MET Opera Theater Will Present Copland's 'Tender Land' Dec. 8-10

Aaron Copland's "The Tender Land," a thoroughly American operatic fable by a thoroughly American composer, will be presented in three performances by the University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye (MET) Opera Theater at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec, 8 and 9, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, in the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City.

The fall production of the MET Opera Theater, "The Tender Land" will feature a cast of UI students and the UI Chamber Orchestra conducted by William LaRue Jones, director of orchestral studies at the School of Music.

The production staff will include three guest artists working with personnel from the UI Division of Performing Arts: director Valorie Goodall, designer Paul Sannerud and lighting designer Ed McCarthy. Costume design is by Margaret Wenk from the Division of Performing Arts Production Unit.

Copland is one of the most popular and recognizably American composers. In the 1920s he gained attention with a series of works incorporating both jazz and folk-music elements. In the late 1930s and 1940s he wrote a series of ballets with American folk themes, including "Billy the Kid," "Rodeo" and "Appalachian Spring."

He brought the same recognizably American sensibility and musical style to his only full-length opera, "The Tender Land," written in the 1950s. The work has an impeccable American pedigree: it was commissioned by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II of Broadway fame and inspired by photographer Walker Evans' depression-era portraits of rural sharecroppers.

The story is equally American: placed on a Midwestern farm during the 1930s, it dramatizes themes straight from the American literary and dramatic tradition: the endurance of the land and the dreams of the people that live on it, the attraction of the road and a fear of the unknown, and above all the desire for improvement through hard work.

At the beginning of the opera, Laurie is poised to become the first in her family to graduate from high school. Living on the farm with her Ma and Grandpa and younger sister, she embodies the hopes of her family for a better life. She wonders what the future will hold as she prepares to leave high school behind.

Destiny appears in the form of two drifters. Grandpa is suspicious of the unfamiliar young men, but hires them to help with the harvest. At the party celebrating Laurie's impending graduation, Laurie falls in love with Martin, one of the drifters, further arousing Grandpa's fears and suspicions. The ensuing conflict is recognizable in many families and in many times. And at the end, hope and the land endure.

"The Tender Land" was composed at a time when Copland was under suspicion from the McCarthy-FBI investigations, in spite of the patriotism reflected in his music. Conceived for the most American medium, television, "The Tender Land" was first performed by the New York City Opera in 1954.

The cast of the MET Opera Theater production will feature two singers each in the leading roles: Kelsey Williams (performing Friday and Sunday) and Alison Homes (Saturday) as Laurie; and Robert Kemp (Friday and Sunday) and Quiliano Anderson (Saturday) as Martin. In the other major roles, Hillary Foster will appear as Ma Moss, Paul Morel as Grandpa, Bryce Weber as the second drifter, Top, and Lexi Schiano in the speaking role of Laurie's younger sister, Beth.

Goodall was resident stage director at the Stamford, Conn., Palace Theatre for the New England Lyric Operetta Company, and established Opera at Rutgers at Rutgers University, where she was professor of voice and opera for 29 years. Opera at Rutgers received six National Opera Association production awards in seven years, including two first-place awards.

Her performing career including professional opera singing in Vienna, Graz, Bern and Prague in major soprano roles, including Mimi in "La Boheme," Micaela in "Carmen," Melisande in "Pelleas et Melisande" and others. She recorded Franz Lehar's "Land des Laechelns" (Land of Smiles) opposite legendary tenor Giuseppe di Stefano, with whom she performed at Vienna's Theater an der Wien, as well as on tour in the United States and Canada.

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. The founding director of the internationally recognized Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., Jones has appeared as a guest conductor with professional, festival, collegiate and student ensembles throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia. See:

Paul Sannerud has been a freelance designer for 25 years and has designed more than 300 productions for theater, opera and dance. He is the president of P2 Design and Production Inc., an event design and production company in Phoenix, Ariz. He served as the dean and artistic director for the Viterbo University School of Fine Arts in La Crosse, Wisc., for six years and has produced shows throughout the Midwest. He has recently completed designs for Iowa City's Riverside Theatre, as well as Stageworks, Carousel Dinner Theatre, the Homeland Defense Foundation, Phoenix Theatre, Actor's Theatre of Phoenix, Luther College Opera and Childsplay.

McCarthy has extensive professional experience in lighting, from lighting director of PBS's "Live from Lincoln Center" to many production on and off Broadway. The son of the house carpenter at Radio City Music Hall, he says "I pretty much grew up at Radio City."

McCarthy's extensive credits include a benefit production of "Once on This Island" at the Wintergarden Theatre on Broadway, the new musical "Johnny Guitar" Off Broadway, associate lighting designer for five companies of "Mamma Mia!" in the US and Canada, more than 30 Off- and Off-off-Broadway productions, and concerts at Carnegie Hall for Judy Collins, Ben Vereen, and Marvin Hamlisch, among others. His television credits include lighting director for this year's Grammy Awards, Latin Grammys, Tony Awards, Daytime Emmy Awards and Kennedy Center Honors.

In a previous UI appearance, he was lighting designer for the 2005 University Theatres production of "Nickled and Dimed."

As the resident designer for the UI Performing Arts Production Unit for the past 23 years, Wenk has gained a national reputation as an artist designing costumes and scenery. Her designs have had a major impact on the success of the productions staged by the MET Opera Theater, the UI Department of Dance, University Theatres and Iowa Summer Rep. She is an adjunct lecturer and consultant, teaching design, rendering and scenic art for the Department of Theatre Arts, Arts Outreach, and as a freelance artist. Wenk was awarded the Iowa Board of Regent's Staff Excellence Award for 2001-02.

Performances at the Englert Theatre are made possible by an agreement between the UI Division of Performing Arts and the Englert Theatre, Inc. Admission to "The Tender Land" will be $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, $15 for UI students and children 12 and under. Tickets are available from the Englert Box Office, 221 E. Washington in downtown Iowa City. The box office is open 1 to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday. For phone orders or additional ticket information, call the box office at 319-688-2653.

The mission of the Englert Civic Theatre, Inc., is to own, maintain and operate the Englert Theatre as a community arts center and performance space, enhancing the vitality of Iowa City's historic downtown by preserving its last historic theater. Visit the Englert's Web page, at

The MET Opera Theater and the School of Music are units of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at

For information on UI arts events, visit on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

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; cell: 319-541-2846;