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University of Iowa News Release


March 21, 2008

UI Opera Theater will present satire of operatic life April 4-6

Donizetti's "terrifically entertaining" "Viva la Mama!" -- an operatic satire of backstage life  -- will be the spring production of the University of Iowa's Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 4 and 5, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 6, in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

To make sure all the jokes come through, the opera will be performed in English, in a version with dialogue in place of operatic recitative.

The performance will feature a cast of UI students, a chamber orchestra under the direction of William LaRue Jones, and sets and costumes designed by Margaret Wenk. The production will be stage directed by Stephen Swanson, interim director of the UI Opera Theater, who picked the opera for this year's spring production.

"I first encountered 'La Mama' in Kaiserslautern, Germany, in 1980 when I sang the role of Stefano," Swanson said. "I loved singing in the show, and I became reacquainted with it when I saw my UI colleague John Muriello perform the role of Mama in 2003.

"'Mama' offers a great combination of lovely bel canto vocal writing and some excellent comic ensembles. It's a 'terrifically entertaining show, with wonderful learning opportunities for our students: first-class vocal music for the cast, particularly the 'prima donna,' some great comic ensembles, and Mama gets to chew up the scenery."

"Donizetti's decision to make Mama Agatha, the most outrageous stage mother you can imagine, a travesty role -- a low-voiced man singing the part of a woman -- was pure genius. In my staging I have modeled most of the characters on singers and a few stage mothers I have known in my professional opera career."

Swanson notes that theatrical satires have a long and distinguished tradition, from Mozart's "Impresario" to Mel Brook's "Producers," to name just two. Donizetti's contribution to this lineage was first performed in Naples in 1827, under the somewhat ungainly title "Le inconvenienze teatrali." It was later expanded from the original one-act version into a two-act comic opera. This version was revived in 1962 after decades of neglect, and has continued to enjoy international success.

Because stage mothers are universal, Swanson has updated the production to "a theater near Iowa City, today." A local opera company is preparing the premiere of a new work, the would-be Italian-language masterpiece "Romulus ed Ersilia," and things are not going well. Singers are demanding better arias, the composer refuses to change a note, the producer's grant proposal has been rejected, the prima donna is sick with love and members of the cast take every opportunity to insult one another. It's the usual operatic mayhem, until the arrival of Mama Agatha -- the classic stage mother, performed by a baritone -- really turns things upside down.

Student cast members of "Viva La Mama!" will be:
--Ivo Suarez as Vincenzo Biscromo (Vinnie), the composer.
--Martin Barclay as Robert Sapp, the impresario.
--Caitlin Collins as Dorothea Caccini, the mezzo.
--Lynn Maxfield as Lukas Yoder, aka Luiciano Remingo (Romulus).
--Erin M Smith as Carol "Carola" Brown-Sartinechi (Ersillia).
--Jonathon Struve as Stefano "Steve the Butcher" Sartinechi (Romulus).
--Kelsey Williams as Luigia Boschi (Amore).
--Joseph Ellickson as Orazio Propsero (Ozzie), the librettist.
--Bryce Matthew Weber as Mama Agatha Boschi.

Other artistic contributors to the production include Cassandra Powell, stage manager, assistant director and choreographer; Richard Loula, production manager; Ed McCarthy, lighting designer; and Shari Rhoads, vocal preparation.

Swanson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music in 1994 after an extensive European operatic career that encompassed 91 roles in opera, operetta and musicals. He has sung on German, Austrian and Dutch radio broadcasts and has been a featured soloist in numerous European festivals. 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, 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.

Rhoads joined the UI School of Music faculty as opera coach in the fall of 2000. Before arriving at the UI she taught Lieder and interpretation at the Music Conservatory in Lucerne and the Conservatory of Lausanne in Switzerland. She was Kapellmeister at the Lucerne Theater and served as conductor and coach at the opera theater in Darmstadt, Germany, the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona, Spain, and the Teatro de las Zarzuela in Madrid. For more information, see

Tickets are $20; UI student and youth $10; senior citizen $16.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 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. 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 also may be ordered at

Hancher box office 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 part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Visit the UI School of Music web site 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.

PHOTOS: When available, photos will be posted at

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

MEDIA CONTACTS: Stephen Swanson, UI Opera Theater, 319 335 1671,; Peter Alexander, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0072 (office), 319-541-2846 (cell),