The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Even before the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre opened its blockbuster production of Phantom of the Opera last October, director Everett McCorvey knew there was only one show to do for an encore: Les Miserables.
So, the day after Phantom closed, McCorvey says he wrote a letter to the show’s original Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh, telling him of the success of Phantom, which sold out 11 performances at the Lexington Opera House, and asking if he could get the rights to Les Miz.
Mackintosh forwarded the request to the show’s rights administrators and UK Opera received permission to stage the Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil musical Oct. 10 to 20 at the Opera House. Like Phantom, this will be the first time a full production of Les Miserables has been presented in Lexington, as the Opera House is too small to accommodate the stages and sets of the show’s professional touring productions.
The full-Broadway version of Les Miserables just recently became available to colleges. Nashville’s Belmont College was the first to present it, in March.
The School for Creative and Performing Arts did present the school edition of Les Miserables at the Opera House in March, and has presented that version before. The Oscar-winning film version of the musical brought it back into pop-culture consciousness late last year.
McCorvey said the UK production will be similar to the near $400,000 Phantom production and involve many of the same personnel, including stage director and set designer Richard Kagey, music director John Nardolillo and choreographer Susie Thiel. Auditions will be later in April, so cast members can work on their roles through the summer.
There will be more performances of Les Miz than Phantom with 13 public performances and two student previews. Tickets will go on sale in April 25 for the entire UK Opera season, which will also include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni March 6 to 9 and the annual It’s a Grand Night for Singing show-tune revue, June 13 to 22. (This season’s Grand Night is still to come, June 7 to 15 at the Singletary Center for the Arts.) Season tickets will be available only by phone, by calling (859) 233-3535 or at the Lexington Center Ticket Office. Available single tickets will go on sale in the fall.
Where can you find the comedy of Arthur Sullivan (half of Gilbert and Sullivan) and the pathos of Giacomo Puccini on one stage this weekend?
First Presbyterian Church is where the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s Undergraduate Studio is presenting two one-act operas: the Sullivan comedy Cox and Box and Puccini’s convent drama Suor Angelica.
Yes, there will be nuns filling the Presbyterian church’s dias.
Suor Angelica is the directorial debut for UK distinguished professor of voice Cynthia Lawrence, and it tells the story of a sister who was sent to a convent as punishment and seeks redemption.
Cox and Box is, as Monty Python might say, “something completely different” — credit to UK Opera photographer Sally Horowitz for planting that quip in my noggin. Sullivan’s opera is the story of two men who unwittingly share an apartment. One works at night, the other in the day. But when one gets the day off, the landlord’s ruse is discovered.
This opera also has an aria about bacon. (See video, below.) An operatic aria about bacon?! Oddly, appropriate.
Cox and Box is directed by Patrick Joel Martin and Gregory Turay, UK Opera’s most celebrated graduate.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 12, and Saturday, April 13. Tickets are available through the Singletary Center ticket office (use the links in the last sentence) and at the door starting at 6:30 each night. Prepare to laugh … and cry.
Five singers won cash prizes and full scholarships to the University of Kentucky in the Alltech Vocal Scholarship Competition on March 3 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. The annual competition has become one of the premier vocal scholarship programs in the United States and has brought some of the top singers in UK Opera Theatre productions to Lexington.
Here’s a list of the scholarship winners, plus winners of other cash prizes:
1st Place Alltech Undergraduate Award, $6,000 plus tuition waiver: Willnard E. Anderson, Florissant, Mo.
2nd Place Bryant’s Rent-All and Kentucky Eagle Undergraduate Award, $4, 000 plus tuition waiver: Samantha Williams, Alexandria, Va.
3rd Place Cavalier Distributing Undergraduate Award, $2,000: Matthew Pearce, Union.
The Barbara Rouse Kentucky Prize, $5,000: Sydney Jahnigan, Lexington.
Kentucky Eagle Undergraduate Enthusiasm Award, $1,000: Sarah Rice, Hager Hill.
Bio-Cat Undergraduate Encouragement Award, $1,000: Meredith Ernstberger, Louisville.
Barlow and E.A. Ackerman Dairy Products Inc. Undergraduate Musicianship Award, $1,000: Taylor Harr, Pikeville.
Undergraduate Encouragement Award, $500: Irene Kelly, La Crosse, Wis.
Kentucky Eagle Transfer Student Award, $4,000: Beatriz Paroni, Sao Paolo, Brazil.
1st Place Alltech Graduate Award, $12,000 plus tuition waiver and graduate assistantship: Ryan Traub, Nashville, Tenn.
2nd Place Alltech Graduate Award, $8,000 plus tuition waiver and graduate assistantship: Iris Fordjour-Hankins, Detroit, Mich.
3rd Place Alltech Graduate Award, $5,000 plus tuition waiver and graduate assistantship: Shareese Johnson Arnold, Sheffield, Ala.
Cavalier Distributing and The Gail Robinson Musicianship Award, $2,000: André Campelo, Lexington.
Kentucky Eagle and Jon Carloftis Fine Gardens Graduate Musicianship Award, $1,000: Holly Nicole Dodson, Houston, Texas.
Kentucky Eagle Graduate Enthusiasm Award, $1,000: Jonathan Macarthur Parham, Cordele, Ga.
Kentucky Eagle Graduate Encouragement Award, $1,000: Nicole Sonbert, Durham, N.C.
Graduate Encouragement Award, $500: Marcus Simmons, Philadelphia, Pa.
Last Fall’s record-breaking, eye-popping production of The Phantom of the Opera put the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre in the spotlight as an organization capable of putting on a really big show.
This semester’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro puts the focus on the University of Kentucky’s singers, and it proves to be as satisfying a night, even without the chandelier and the boat.
To be sure, Richard Kagey’s production is a much simpler affair than his Phantom. But it is also what Marriage or many other Mozart operas need to be: charming.
For all its vaunted status as one of the most performed operas in the world – some surveys put it at No. 1 – and a musical masterpiece, Figaro is at its core a silly little love story led by opera’s merry prankster, Figaro.
In the opening night performance of the opera, which is double cast, Daniel Koehn made the role look as easy as it needs to be with his smooth baritone buoyantly romping through some palace intrigue.
As the title suggests, it is Figaro’s wedding day, but before he marries to his beloved Susanna, plays will be made for both of their affections, and there will be other mixing and matching of couples.
Mozart’s music is considered great for young singers as it develops key parts of the voice without stretching it to places it is not ready to go. UK has presented Mozart’s work in its undergraduate studio shows to great success, but here it seems to have opened up the main stage to more undergrads than usual.
Between this and Phantom, 2012-13 seems to be the year of the undergrad at UK Opera, no one benefiting more than Elizabeth Maurey as Susanna, fresh off a turn as one of the three Christines in Phantom. Here, the threats are far less ominous and the music is more sprite, giving Maurey a chance to play and show a very natural comic style. Through three hours and 15 minutes, we get to really enjoy her and Figaro (who in the other cast is played by undergrad Phillip Bullock) as a happy couple we know will come out on top.
Their main challenge is the Count, who we were actually ro0ting for in Giacomo Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, to which Figaro is a sequel (though it was actually written 30 years earlier). Then, Figaro was helping the Count was pursue the lovely Rosina. Now, he has grown tired of Rosina and has set his sights on Susanna, and apparently any other female in his home.
This is not necessarily a show-stealing role, but Thomas Gunther comes close as he is constantly schemes and gets thwarted like Wile E. Coyote. Though he’s creepy, it’s hard to hate him as he brilliantly sings his Act II-opening aria, Hai già vinta la causa … Vedrò mentr’io sospiro.
This production also confirms that mezzo-soprano Ellen Graham can sing pants roles brilliantly, as she also did as Prince Orlofsky in the 2010 production of Die Fledermaus. Here, she is every bit the lovestruck teenage boy Cherubino, and with her gorgeous Act II rendition of Voi che sapete che cosa è amor to the countess, it’s a wonder this does not become a bit of an 18th century Cougar Town.
Kagey’s production makes this opera seem that contemporary, despite its 227 years, as there seems to have been a broad mandate to have fun with it. He aids his own cause with a stage design that is in stark contrast to the complexity of his Phantom set. But it works brilliantly as a variety of locales on a pink and blue checkerboard raked platform and two doors, with several quick changes of backdrop and furniture.
And under John Nardolillo’s baton, the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, fresh off playing Wagner with Christine Brewer, is as crisp as ever, giving this show another dash of exactly what it needs.
The evening was buoyed with the pre-show announcement that UK Opera director Everett McCorvey has withdrawn his name from consideration for dean of the College of Music Theatre, and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and will stay at UK.
UK’s Marriage is not the behemoth of last fall’s blockbuster. But it shows how the program got to the point it could produce shows like Phantom, by consistently staging solid productions like this.
This production continues at 2 and 7 p.m. March 2 and 7 p.m. March 3. Several stars of this production are winners of the Alltech Vocal Scholarship Auditions. This year’s auditions are at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
Everett McCorvey, the educator, performer and impresario who built the University of Kentucky’s voice program into one of the top opera programs in the country, is interviewing for the post of dean of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
According to an itinerary available online, McCorvey arrived in Greensboro on Tuesday morning for a day and a half of interviews at the public university, which has approximately 18,000 students. He is one of three finalists for the post, including Peter Alexander, recently retired dean of the Jordan College of Fine Arts at Butler University, and Sara Baird, chair of the department of music at Auburn University.
In his letter of application, McCorvey says, “I am very impressed with what the School of Music, Theatre and Dance has to offer. … I see tremendous potential for growth, collaboration and achieving new heights.”
Michael Tick, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts, declined to be interviewed for this story because it’s a personnel matter. He said McCorvey is currently on sabbatical.
“I hope that UK doesn’t let Everett get away,” said Marlon Hurst, director of the Kentucky Bach Choir and director of music at First Presbyterian Church, where McCorvey has been active, including serving as interim and substitute music director. “It would be an astonishingly huge loss to the artistic life of our community.”
Since arriving at the University of Kentucky from Knoxville College in 1991, McCorvey has built the college’s opera program into a nationally recognized opera program and Lexington’s de facto opera company. This academic year, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre staged a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera that broke attendance records at the Lexington Opera House. It will open its production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro next week.
Under McCorvey’s watch, the UK voice program was named to a list of 20 recommended opera training programs in the United States by the Richard Tucker Foundation and has launched the careers of professional opera singers including Gregory Turay, Phumzile Sojola, Andrea Jones Sojola, Patricia Andress, Corey Crider and Reshma Shetty, who also is in the cast of USA’s Royal Pains.
In addition to making UK opera productions into major Lexington arts events, McCorvey established the It’s a Grand Night for Singing show-tune concerts as annual red-letter dates on the arts calendar. He also founded the Lexington-based American Spiritual Ensemble, which tours internationally presenting spiritual songs, and was executive producer of the opening ceremonies of the Alltech-FEI World Equestrian Games. McCorvey’s close relationship with Alltech founder Pearse Lyons has resulted in the Alltech Scholarships, one of the most attractive voice scholarships in the country.
According to the UNC-Greensboro website, McCorvey is the last candidate to interview for the job.
University of Kentucky senior Rebecca Farley and Ph.D. candidate Thomas Gunther were winners in Saturday’s Kentucky District Round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and they are still in the running to sing on the Metropolitan Opera stage. Their next stop is Memphis, Tenn., for the Midsouth Regional round of the auditions on Jan. 26, where they will be joined by University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of music graduate student Edward Nelson, who rounded out the field of three winners, Saturday.
Traditionally, only one singer advances to the national semi-finals in New York from regional rounds.
The win rounds out a big fall for Farley, 22, who was one of three UK sopranos who sang the role of Christine in the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s blockbuster production of Phantom of the Opera. Gunther, 29, was one of three singers who played Raoul.
Also honored Saturday were two other stars of that production: baritone Jacob Brian Waid who played the Phantom and tenor Evan LeRoy Johnson who played Piangi, both 20. They received encouragement awards, which included cash prizes, though they did not advance to the next round.
All four honorees are students of UK voice professor Cynthia Lawrence.
The Met Auditions were held at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall, and 24 singers competed Saturday.
Note: This post was update to correct the number of UK winners stated in the initial posting.
Citing disappointing ticket sales, producer Henno Lohmeyer has cancelled the remainder of the Gail Robinson Series of recitals and concerts.
According to a news release from Lohmeyer’s Multigram Productions, the initial event, a Nov. 3 recital by soprano Christine Goerke and pianist Bradley Moore at Transylvania University, sold only a fraction of the available tickets. Ticket sales were even more disappointing for upcoming events including a recital by pianist Julia Siciliano and violinist Virgil Boutellis slated for Tuesday.
Lohmeyer, a former producer in Europe and New York, had launched the series in hopes of adding current opera stars to the Lexington area’s lineup of touring artists, which leans heavily on instrumentalists and ensembles. The remaining artists on the series were tenor Gregory Turay in January and mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung in April. He named the series in honor of his late wife, Metropolitan Opera hall of fame soprano and administrator Gail Robinson, who held the University of Kentucky’s distinguished chair in voice from 1999 until her death in 2008.
The news release stated all ticket holders will be reimbursed.
The Kentucky District round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions isn’t until until Nov. 17 at Memorial Hall. But two University of Kentucky singers already have advanced to the regional round of the competition by competing in other district competitions.
Baritone Reginald Smith Jr. was one of four winners at the Ohio District Auditions on Oct. 20 in Cincinnati. That put Smith in direct competition with singers from the prestigious University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and he held his own in advancing to the Central Region Auditions on Nov. 4 in Evanston, Ill. University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey said Smith went to the Ohio audition because of scheduling conflicts with the Kentucky District.
Soprano Holly Flack, a UK graduate now living in Chicago, also won Saturday, at the Wisconsin District Auditions. She has advanced to the Feb. 2 Upper Midwest Regional in St. Paul, Minn. Flack has been working in Chicago and is cast as the Queen of the Night in Chicago Chamber Opera’s 2013 production of The Magic Flute.
Both Smith and Flack have advanced to regional rounds of the Met auditions before, but neither has gone on to the national rounds in New York.
As many as 30 singers might be in the running when the Kentucky District round is held on Nov. 17. Traditionally, a sizable contingent of UK students has participated, and at least a couple usually advance to the regionals. So there is a chance of a historic field of regional competitors from UK this year.
The administrators of the rights to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera have gone to great lengths to make sure the student productions they authorize are student productions.
No faculty appearances, recent grad cameos or guest artist ringers in the top spots. The performers in these shows have to be enrolled students.
And the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of Phantom, which opened Friday night at the Lexington Opera House and runs for 10 more performances through Oct. 14, succeeds because of the students. The chandelier could defy gravity, the boat could not float and there could be nary a spark on the stage, and this still would be a great production because of the student singers and actors that grace the stage.
Lexington has been waiting nearly 25 years for this show, and it got a good one.
A student production was pretty much the only way the Bluegrass was going to see Phantom any time soon. It is still running on Broadway, so producers aren’t granting rights to independent theaters to produce it, pro or otherwise. And none of the national tours of the show have been physically or economically feasible to present at the Lexington Opera House. But a couple years ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s group decided to authorize the show for high school and college student performances, in large part as a gesture of support for arts education.
Fortunately for Lexington-area theater fans, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre got the show, and as is the troupe’s habit, they have done it up right with a $300,000 production that comes with all the frills Phantom fans have come to expect including ginormous set pieces, cool features and pyrotechnics.
But we need look no further than Michael Bay movies to know productions can be big and flashy but have no soul. That’s where Phantom director Richard Kagey and the triple-cast performers come in.
Friday’s opening night cast, scheduled to perform again Saturday night, Thursday night and the Oct. 14 matinee, featured Jacob Waid plumbing the depths of the Phantom’s story for a heartbreaking performance and Rebecca Farley in a stunning turn as Christine. When she sings, “And through his music my soul began to soar,” her voice takes flight. Both nail all of their signature tunes, Think of Me for Christine and Music of the Night for Phantom, along with Elliot Lane who sings a gorgeous All I Ask of You as Raoul, Christine’s true love.
They are supported by a sometimes brilliant ensemble including Arianna Afshari and Evan LeRoy Johnson as the Paris Opera’s buffoonish leading soprano and tenor and Daniel Koehn and Jermaine Brown Jr. as the exhausted company directors, all of who skillfully make the show funnier than we remember it or thought it would be.
Here’s the real striking thing: A lot of the principal cast, including all three Christines (rounded out by Elizabeth Maurey and Monica Dewey) are undergraduates. Waid is a junior. This is in a company that leans so heavily on graduate students it had to establish an annual show specifically designed to give undergraduates a chance to perform. Here, they are shining in UK Opera’s biggest production ever. Some may tut, “Well this is a musical, not a real opera,” but it is a musical with extremely serious singing from the solos to intricate ensembles such as Prima Donna.
Phantom is a big show with lots of moving parts and in this production, they don’t always move great together. Quite a bit of dialogue was lost to blasts of orchestra — which overall sounded splendid under John Nardolillo’s baton — and the microphone system let singers down numerous times, particularly Lane, who frequently sounded like he was singing over a cell phone connection. There were also a number of times performers looked lost, like the doubles for Phantom and Christine crossing the bridge for the first time.
One big thing that worked very well is the dance ensemble with impressive synchronicity under second-year dance instructor Susie Thiel.
If ever there was a critic-proof production in Lexington, this is it. Before opening, this Phantom sold most of the tickets for its 11 show run (a performance at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 was added Friday) at the 866-seat Opera House. Those fans can turn out assured they will get their money’s worth.
Elizabethtown-based baritone Anthony Clark Evans, who was selling cars at the beginning of this year, is on his way to the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
The Ryan Opera Center is the young artist development program at the Lyric Opera, one of the best-known opera companies in the United States. Evans is one of five singers out of more than 400 applicants to be accepted into the program, which begins in April.
Chicago is the latest chapter in the unlikely story of Evans’ music career. He studied voice at Murray State University but then left after he got married and needed to support his household. He went to work selling cars for Swope Toyota of Elizabethtown. Early this year, he decided to take a shot at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and entered the district round in Memphis. He won and kept on winning, becoming one of five national winners at the grand gala concert on the Metropolitan Opera stage in New York.
Since then, he has competed and won in a few other competitions and gave his debut professional recital at the Singletary Center for the Arts last month. Evans is represented by Lexington-based United Artists and Authors Agency.
At the Lyric Opera, Evans and his fellow residents will work with opera professionals in master classes, coaching sessions and work as understudies and ensemble performers in Lyric productions.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich