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University of Iowa News Release


June 22, 2007

Photos from Opera rehearsal.

UI Comic Operas Follow Trials And Tribulations Of Love And Marriage

The trials and tribulations of love and marriage will be featured in a matched pair of madcap comedies when the University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater presents a double bill of Rossini's "The Marriage Contract" and Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury," opening at 8 p.m. Friday, July 13, in Clapp Recital Hall.

Other performances of the two one-act operas will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 15, and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 20 and 21.

The productions will be stage directed by guest artist Gary Briggle, who directed and appeared in "Pirates of Penzance" for the UI Opera Theater last summer. William LaRue Jones will be music director. Scene design is by Margaret Wenk.

"Brevity is the soul of wit," Briggle writes. "I think this is never more true than in the case of comic opera. The one-act format has often yielded the most succinct and successful comic results."

Both operas feature the unexpected consequences of an ill-planned engagement. And by happy coincidence, both are first efforts: "The Marriage Contract" was Rossini's very first opera, which premiered in Venice in 1810 when the composer was just 18; and "Trial by Jury," which was the first operetta written by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, premiered in London in 1875.

"The Marriage Contract" revolves around the attempts of Sir Tobias Mill, a wealthy and cold-hearted British merchant, to marry off his daughter, Fanny, to his Canadian trading partner, Slook. Sir Tobias has drawn up a contract granting Slook all rights over his daughter but, this being comedy, Fanny is naturally already in love. Her heart's desire is Edward Milfort, who is handsome but without prospects.

When Slook arrives from the Canadian wilderness, the household is shocked by his manners, appearance and intentions -- but none more so than Fanny and Edward. One abortive duel and several plot twists later, Slook turns out to be the genuine gentleman in the cast: He has given up his claim on Fanny, made Edward his heir, and persuaded Sir Tobias to join in him a native ritual of peace.

"The Marriage Contract" will be performed in English, in a translation prepared for this performance by Briggle with Edward Foremen. "It was a thrilling challenge to translate the Rossini opera just for this occasion," Briggle writes. "With Gilbert's brilliant wit as our gold standard, we hope you'll find our efforts successful."

Cast members will include Paul Morel as Sir Tobias Mill; Allison Holmes as Fanny; Robert Kemp as Edward; and Bryce Weber as Slook.

As up to date as the latest supermarket tabloid, "Trial by Jury" is a hilarious satire in which celebrity lovers are entangled in a legal process presided over by a corrupt and lecherous judge. International playboy Edwin has been seen about town with a glamorous starlet, recklessly risking his engagement to Angelina, the darling of the tabloid press. Apparently heartbroken, Angelina drags Edwin into civil court on the charge of Breach of Promise of Marriage.

As each side pleads its case, the judge flirts with the bridesmaids and the bride, Edwin is willing to marry Angelina AND his new sweetheart, and Angelina is determined to get everything she can from Edwin. The judge, fed up with the proceedings, renders a shocking decision that ignites mayhem and merriment in the courtroom.

Cast members for "Trial by Jury" include Paul Morel as the Usher, Joseph Ellickson as the Foreman of the Jury, Lisa Pepperkorn as the Maid of Honor, Greg Zwanda as Edwin, Jonathan Struve as the Learned Judge and Lexi Schiano as Angelina.

"When it comes to the trials and tribulations of the institution of marriage, some things just don't change," Briggle writes of the two comedies "I'm sure our audience will enjoy being introduced to -- or reminded of -- the singular genius of the artists who created these enduring classics."

Other contributors to the production include costume supervisor Cindy Kubu, production manager Richard Loula, lighting designer Laurel Shoemaker and vocal preparation by Shari Rhoads.

Briggle is a singer/actor, director and teacher with more than 30 years professional experience in various forms of musical theater. As an actor, he won the Carbonell Award from the South Florida Critics Circle and the Theatre League of South Florida for his productions of Gilbert & Sullivan operas. He performed as a member of the Minnesota Opera Company resident ensemble, appearing in premieres and standard repertory operas.

For more than 20 years Briggle has been a performer and director, with ongoing relationships with Seaside Music Theater in Florida, Lyric Opera Cleveland and the Arizona Theater Company. In recent years he has been particularly sought after for productions of Gilbert and Sullivan, and has taught throughout the Midwest. For more information, see

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

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 Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater, the Department of Dance, University Theatres and Iowa Summer Rep. She is an adjunct lecturer and consultant, teaching design, rendering and scenic art for the University Theatres, Arts Outreach and as a freelance artist. Wenk was awarded the Iowa Board of Regent's Staff Excellence Award for 2001-02.

Tickets to the summer opera twin bill of "The Marriage Contract" and "Trial by Jury" will be $20 ($16 for seniors and $10 for UI students and youth). Advance tickets will be available from the Hancher Auditorium Box Office. Tickets will be available in the lobby of Clapp Recital Hall on hour before each performance.

Hancher Auditorium summer box office business hours are 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. weekdays. The box office will be open at Clapp Recital Hall one hour before curtain time for each performance.

During regular box office hours, call 319-335-1160 from the local calling area. 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 online 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bill, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail

The School of Music and the Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater are units of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Visit the School of Music Web page at

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit 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;