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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 19, 2008

UI Opera Theater premieres 'A December to Remember' Dec. 12 and 13

The University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater will present "A December to Remember," a musical collage for the holiday season conceived and written by Gary Briggle, who was guest stage director with the Opera Theater in the summers of 2006 and 2007. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 12 and 13, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14, in the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City.

Stage director for the production is John Muriello and music direction is by Shari Rhoads, both members of the UI School of Music faculty.

Musical elements of "A December to Remember" include some of the best-known and most-loved music associated with the holiday season, including pieces from the concert tradition as well as folk and popular music. Created in the spirit of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," "A December to Remember" is described by Briggle as "a theatrical scrapbook of memories from Midwestern American family life, during the Second World War.

"(This was) a time when the radio connected the hearts of all Americans to the leader of the nation, to our brave men and women in the armed forces, and to the larger world -- in this case, the world of glorious music from the rich European heritage and from popular Americana."

A singer/actor and stage director acclaimed for his Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Briggle first came to the UI for the summer 2006 production of "The Pirates of Penzance." He both directed the operetta and appeared in the role of Major General Stanley -- "the very model of the modern major general," according to his famous patter song. Briggle returned to the UI in the summer of 2007 to direct productions of Rossini's "The Marriage Contract" and Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury."

As a collage, "A December to Remember" brings together many different elements that were part of the wartime experiences of many families, placing them in the context of a holiday gathering on the home front. In the course of the show, the audience will be introduced to the family, bravely celebrating the holiday while anxiously awaiting news of their eldest son, fighting in Europe. The carolers, singing traditional songs and hymns, drop in to share good cheer with their neighbors.

In the context of this domestic scene, the radio offers great classical artists singing seasonal masterpieces by Handel, Bach, Vaughan Williams and Humperdinck, among others, as well as popular American songs by Irving Berlin, Victor Herbert, Johnny Marks, Frank Loesser, Jule Styne and Hugh Martin.

Briggle noted that "The dramatic arc of this newly conceived work is propelled by the nativity story, told by various voices in contrasting ways, and as we glimpse memorable moments from home, the radio studio and the war front, we are reminded of the precious blessings and miracles of the season of hope fulfilled."

"This original production will be a treat for all ages," Muriello said. "It includes popular holiday favorites, beloved carols and inspirational classics, including glorious selections from Handel's 'Messiah,' Bach's 'Christmas Oratorio' and Menotti's 'Amahl and the Night Visitors.' Briggle has written a warm, wonderful celebration that's sure to become an annual family tradition!"

Musical selection heard over the radio and sung by those present in the family's home include:

--The old Welsh carol "Deck the Hall."
--"Jingle Bells" by James Pierpont.
--The French carol "Angels we have heard on high."
--The German carol "O Tannenbaum (O Christmas tree).
--Selections from Handel's "Messiah."
--"Evening Prayer" from Engelbert Humperdinck's opera "Hansel and Gretel."
--"I wonder as I wander" by John Jacob Niles.
--"Let it snow!" by Jule Styne.
--"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" by Irving Berlin.
--"Silent Night" by Franz Gruber.
--Selections from Bach's "Christmas Oratorio."
--"O Holy Night" by Adolphe Adam.
--Other seasonal favorites that will be well known to the audience.

Also heard over the radio will be President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Christmas Eve Address to the nation, in a recording of an actual broadcast made during the war years.

The cast includes three groups that will perform individually and together. The family will be portrayed by Caitlin Collins, Gregory Zawada, James Stipanowich, Cassandra Schiano, George McTyre and Lisa Peperkorn. Singers performing as the neighborhood carolers will be Natalie Ramlow, Kaitlin Galetti, Scott Allison and Ian Richardson. And performing from the radio studio will be Brian Dykes, Juan Carlos Mendoza, Ivo Suarez, Marianne Sadée, Holly Patch, Alexandra Schiano, Stephanie Kopplin, Michelle Crouch, Joseph Ellickson, Erin Smith and Bryan Ross.

David Hsu will accompany the performances on piano. Scenic and costume design is by Margaret Wenk-Kuchlbauer, and lighting design is by Ed McCarthy.

Admission to "A December to Remember" will be $20 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 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 through Friday. For phone orders or additional ticket information call the box office at 319-688-2653.

To make access easier to the Englert, parking for opera patrons will be $1 at Iowa City parking ramps with an opera ticket stub.

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 information visit

A singer whose work ranges from opera and operetta to concert and musical theater, Muriello joined the UI School of Music faculty in the fall of 1997. He has performed operatic and musical theater roles with Opera Carolina, the Banff Centre in Canada, L'Opera Francais of New York, Skylight Opera Theater, Ohio Light Opera and the Southeastern Savoyards of Atlanta, as well as numerous roles with the UI Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater. For more information visit

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 visit

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.

For UI arts information and calendar updates visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then 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 (office), 319-541-2846 (cell),