The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
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.
Sep9Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Arts administration, Balagula Theatre, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Downtown Arts Center, LexArts, Lexington Singers, Music, Musicals, Opera, Studio Players, SummerFest, The Rep, Theater, Visual arts, Woodford County Theatre; Tagged as: Ann Tower, Everett McCorvey, Jefferson Johnson, Larry Snipes, Robert Morgan, Robert Parks Johnson
In my column in the 2012-13 Arts Preview section of the Sept. 9 Lexington Herald-Leader, a handful of Lexington arts leaders who have been serving 15 years or more offered their opinions on how the arts have changed in the area over the last decade and a half and the current state of the arts. Of course, the print edition offered limited space for responses, but as we have said before, the web is a different story. So here are the unedited replies.
I am going to start with University of Kentucky voice professor and director of the UK Opera Theatre Everett McCorvey, because he answered in the body of the questions I posed, so it will let you know what everyone was responding to.
Q: This year, I was interested in hearing from folks who have been active here for a long time to get your impressions of how the arts in Central Kentucky have changed and stayed the same.
A: I love Kentucky and the appreciation for the arts. There are so many talented artists in our midst and it’s great to be in a city that supports artists and their work.
Q: What sorts of things have happened you never thought you’d see, or maybe you wish you’d never seen?
A: For me the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Alltech FEI 2010 World Equestrian Games were amazing. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to serve as the Executive Producer of a world event. I was very honored to have been asked. I was equally as proud of the local artists, technicians, businesses and volunteers who we were able to engage to perform and participate in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Everyone stepped up to the plate in an amazing way. It was a memorable event.
Q: What has been most surprising, affirming or disturbing?
A: When I arrived in Lexington, I was told by someone … “Everett this town will never support opera! Go somewhere while you are still young that will support opera.” I’m happy to say that this person was wrong! Lexington truly is an opera town. UK Opera Theatre was recently recognized by the Richard Tucker Foundation of New York as one of the top twenty opera training programs in the country for young singers. Pretty amazing!
Q: What is the state of the arts in the Lexington area, from your perspective?
A: We must guard very carefully our love and participation for the arts and not let the economy, video games and decreased legislative funding dim the importance of the arts in a community. Lexington is the community that it is because of the arts. The arts bring a vibrancy, an excitement, a sense of life and happiness to a community. The arts bring people together and they help us grow as human beings. I have long thought of doing research on towns that have high crime rates to try to discover how much hands-on art that particular city might have. I’ll bet the lower the participation in the arts, the higher the crime rate. The higher the participation in the arts, the lower the crime rate. When you take arts out of the schools, you take the reason that some students get out of bed in the morning to get to school. I was in the band when I was in elementary school. It was the excitement about being in the band that got me up every day and got me to school. It was music that carried me through my classes and helped me to appreciate the importance of discipline and responsibility so that I could practice my art. It is proven that children in the arts do better academically and are more successful in their chosen field, even if they choose to pursue other careers. The quality of life is improved by a community actively engaged in the arts. An active arts community draws more creative, fun and intellectual people to the city. Great cities also have great art. I think that’s been proven over and over. Please Lexington, don’t change. Don’t lose your fantastic appreciation and support of the arts. The arts make Lexington special.
Jefferson Johnson, director of choirs at the University of Kentucky and music director of the Lexington Singers
From my perspective I am really proud of the “choral culture” that has developed in central KY. Since I came to Lexington in 1993 (this is my 20th year as Director of Choral Activities at UK) I have witnessed a proliferation of strong choirs at every level. The high school choirs in this region have gotten stronger–several of them are conducted by former students (I’m proud to say).
The community choruses are thriving as well: the Lexington Bach Choir is a fabulous new group, and the Lexington Chamber Choir is doing extremely well, as are community choruses in Georgetown, Winchester, and Richmond, to name a few. The Kentuckians barbershop chorus is thriving.
Of course I’m most proud to be only the third director in the 55-year history of the Lexington Singers. We have grown from 110 to 180 voices over the past 15 years and have performed at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Cathedral of Notre Dame, and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City while taking concert tours to Europe, South America, and within the U.S. We started the Lexington Singers Children’s Choirs (under the Artistic Direction of Dr. Lori Hetzel) in 2004. That organization has grown to include four choruses, touring annually.
Our choral program at UK has grown from 2 choirs (65 voices total) to 7 choirs with over 200 students involved each year.
When we started the acoUstiKats in 1993 there were no other male a cappella groups in central Kentucky that I could find. Now they are a feature of many high school choral programs and nearly every area college. Our choral music education graduates, expertly shepherded by Lori Hetzel, are teaching throughout the state and running many of the best choral programs.
The level of music in area church choirs is also very high, and these church music programs frequently serve the area with gracious use of their facilities.
It would be interesting to see how many people in Lexington are singing in some kind of a choir. I would guess over 5,000 easily.
Outside of choral music, I have noticed a flourishing of musical theater groups. Paragon, the Rep, Grand Night, and other groups and events have put on high quality shows (including the Lexington Singers annual Pops concerts). SCAPA and other schools are doing amazing things with musicals.
The UK Orchestra, under John Nardolillo, has become a major player in the arts scene. John’s ability to attract internationally acclaimed artists to play with the UKSO has transformed the local arts culture. Chamber music is also making a statement in central Kentucky with two annual festivals.
In summary, I am very proud (and somewhat surprised) that a city with the population of Lexington has been able to foster and grow so many high quality arts groups–especially in light of the cuts in state and federal funding. Its a tribute to the hard working artists but also to the philanthropic individuals who have supported these artistic endeavors. The financial support of the arts by corporations and individuals has long been a hallmark of strong artistic societies. I think we have one here in Lexington.
Robert Parks Johnson, actor and contributing Herald-Leader arts writer
Since our arrival in Lexington in 1995, I don’t remember there being as many really fine companies doing consistently good work. Our community was once dominated by a handful of personality cults. You were loyal to this director or that one, this company or another. Actors are much more willing to go where the work is exciting, and right now, that’s just about everywhere.
Casting is still much too white. The theatre community has failed to encourage and develop African American and Latino artists. There is still a sense of novelty and tokenism when we see anything other than Caucasian faces in lead roles.
LexARTS has grown into an expensive organization whose contribution to the community seems disproportionately modest. I’m sure they do more than this, but their most visible activities seem to center around raising money and being landlords. Companies like Actors’ Guild and Balagula are proving that theatre can work in non-traditional spaces, but much of that effort is made necessary by the prohibitive costs and burdensome rules of producing at the Downtown Arts Center. I don’t know the numbers, but it seems to me that an awful lot of pennies go to overhead for each dollar that LexARTS raises.
I am delighted to have witnessed the resurrection and renaissance of the two companies that are dearest to my heart. A nearly terminal case of mission creep brought Actors’Guild to the brink, but thanks to the vision and seemingly inexhaustible energy of Eric Seale, the company is back at work making good theatre and developing a new generation of artists. The Lexington Shakespeare Festival’s demise was short lived, thanks to a group of veterans who stepped into the void when that fine company closed for the last time. SummerFest at the Arboretum is more successful than ever, and continues to be the most unique and festive theatre experience in the Bluegrass.
My greatest sadness about our theatre community is that we seem to have given up on Shakespeare. Actors and audiences who love the Bard have one chance a year to play together. There is no way to develop a corps of actors with the skills and experience to play the classics well when there are only a dozen opportunities to practice. The result is work that is frustrating for artists and audiences alike. I wish there were more chances for our artists to scale this pinnacle of our language’s contribution to the world theatre.
The best development in Lexington theatre has been the influx of new young talent. The “Old Guard” and the “Usual Suspects” are still around to share stories and what wisdom we may have collected over the years, but gifted, committed young artists are driving the bus now. That as much as anything makes me proud of my legacy and hopeful for the future of our art in this wonderful town.
Robert Morgan, artist and former gallery owner
I would like to celebrate all the little guys who take on the task of doing world class art and putting on truly creative projects in Lexington. We are the ones setting the bar for the community. We work without any money are support from arts organizations and produce far more excitement in the community. I am talking about the likes of Gallerie Soliel (Morgan’s former gallery) and Institute 193. We are and were working with a budget far less than most organizations postage budget for a yearly programming. When I meet young folks in the arts who seem blocked into a corner I tell them to just take control and make it happen without local resources. I tell them they are in many ways better off creating off the grid, there are no restrictions! One day I wish the local money bags would create a slush fund just to give to young and creative artists to do what they do best — light fires all over this town and shame us with what they can do with their spark and vision. Spark and vision are severely lacking in almost all of our art organizations and institutions.
Ann Tower, artist and owner of the Ann Tower Gallery
Over all, I think things have changed for the best in Lexington over the past 10 years. When I opened in April 2002, Main St was pretty bleak and empty. We had the new library and the new courthouses, but there was still a lot of construction obstructing sidewalks and roads, and there weren’t many restaurants, and it was difficult to get people to come downtown. Today, we have lots of restaurants, but I’d love to see more art galleries and more retail businesses in general on Main St.
21C opening here is the single most exciting thing that’s happened, or scheduled to happen, for the visual arts in Lexington. At last, an art hotel on Main St that celebrates the adventurous art collection built by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. It will be a magnet for art lovers, as well as the curious, and whether they like the art or not, there will be plenty to discuss and think about. I expect those same visitors will also venture out to see what else our city has to offer, and maybe, some will think about starting their own art collections, or at least a buying a painting or a photograph or something. Obviously, all the arts need patrons and benefactors to thrive, and I think having 21C here will set an example.
Larry Snipes, producing director of the Lexington Children’s Theatre
Since I arrived in Lexington about three years after the Opera House re-opened, much has changed some for the good, and some which causes me concern.
Obviously, I have to start with LCT, we have grown from a small community arts organization that produced only three shows and a few education programs to a professional theatre for youth that serves over hundreds of thousands of young people. Our budget was around $40,000 when I arrived as the only full time employee. Now our budget is over a million dollars and we employ 14 full time staff and 30 or 40 part-time artists and interns to produce over 300 performances of 11 shows each season.
As for impact on the community, I would have to say that a prime catalyst for the growth of LCT and many other organizations was the creation of the Fund for the Arts in the 1980s. The Fund provided a stable base of support for many organizations and allowed us to concentrate on what we do best, creating the art. In addition to funding, the Lexington Arts and Cultural Council as, LexArts was called then, also supported community arts organization with professional development and assistance with best practices in arts management. I know I learned a great deal about the business side of the arts with each of those early trips before the allocations committee. They made us better at the business side of the arts, which in turn freed us to take risks and be creative with our artistic endeavors. It wasn’t perfect and still isn’t today, but it works.
As for the current state of the arts, I would have to say we have a boatload of dedicated artists and organizations that are working day and night to bring the best work to Central Kentucky audiences. I am thrilled with the variety of theatre, dance, music and visual art offerings in Lexington. Just look at this arts calendar, I dare you to find a weekend where there is nothing going on in the arts. In the theatre world in addition to our work at LCT, we have solid long standing groups like Studio Players and Actors’ Guild as well as newer groups like Project See, The Rep, KCT and the innovative work and concept that is Balagula.
As for my concerns, I worry that we may have seen the last of arts philanthropists like Lucille Little and W. T. Young. Those two alone have had a tremendous effect on the art we see in Lexington today. Where are their successors?
I really worry about the state of arts education in Kentucky. Over the years I have seen things improve a bit and then have the rug pulled out from under them. When I came to Lexington the Fayette County Public Schools had the Arts in Basic Education Program that had specialists in all disciplines who worked in elementary schools to help teachers integrate the arts into their classroom. Sadly that program was phased out. Arts have gone from being four questions on a yearly test to merely an assessment of schools arts activities to “insure schools provide a vigorous arts and humanities program” and improve on it every year. Actually improving on it every year sounds good, but the thing is, in practice, if you start at zero, improvement each year is pretty easy. After the change to assessment only, art teachers were cut across the commonwealth. Arts were no longer on the test. Not on the test equals not important. I wonder if our young people will be provided opportunities to participate in and see arts performances or will we continue to chip away at the creative fabric of our society?
Rich’s P.S. Thanks to all the folks who repsonded to this request and those who chose to reply. If you would like to add to the conversation, please comment on this post.
By now, students in the University of Kentucky’s voice program have gotten used to meeting and working with opera royalty with visits and residencies by stars such as Samuel Ramey, Ronan Tynan, Sherrill Milnes, Anna Moffo, Cynthia Lawrence and others, including the late Gail Robinson.
This weekend though, some students found themselves in the company of rock ‘n’ roll royalty when Bruce Springsteen attended the Alltech National Horse Show and related events where UK students sang at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“It was pretty amazing!” UK Opera director Everett McCorvey wrote in an email. “He was very complimentary of their singing at the Alltech National Horse Show.
“The singers sang each evening and then on Friday and Saturday evenings they danced the night away with The Boss, his family and many of the guests at a special after-event party at the Horse Park.”
Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa were at the Horse Show cheering on their daughter, Jessica Springsteen, who placed third in the $250,000 Grand Prix Saturday.
Jun23Filed under: Music, Musicals, Opera, Photo Gallery, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Abby Quammen, Cynthia Lawrence, Everett McCorvey, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Kathryn Todd Norman, Lashelle Q. Allen, Lee Todd, Patsy Todd, Peggy Stamps, Photos from It's a Grand Night for Singing, Smokey Joe's Café, The Addams Family, Tim Collins, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre photos, Virginia Peppiatt, Whit Whitaker
Before we get too far away from this year’s edition of It’s a Grand Night for Singing, I wanted to share some pictures University of Kentucky Opera Theatre photographer Tim Collins sent along. This year’s Grand Night included selections as up-to-date as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and featured a June 18 tribute to outgoing University of Kentucky President Lee Todd.
Apr25Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Music, Opera, Theater, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: A.R. Gurney, Alicia Helm, College of Fine Arts, Dylan Dean, Everett McCorvey, Guignol Theatre, Louisiana State University, Love Letters, Michael Tick, Pulitzer Prize, Swine Palace, Tuska Center for Contemporary Art, UK School of Music, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
Central Kentucky theater goers are used to University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey and his wife, soprano Alicia Helm, hitting high C’s and other skyscraping notes when they take the stage.
Friday and Saturday though, the drama will be more intimate, though still intense.
McCorvey and Helm, who are married, will perform in Love Letters, A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play that follows a couple from grade school to middle age through their letters to each other. The production in the Guignol Theatre will be the first show at UK directed by Michael Tick, the new dean of the College of Fine Arts. Tick came to UK last summer from Louisiana State University, where he was chair of the theater department and artistic director of Swine Palace, a professional theater affiliated with the LSU theater program.
The show will include musical interludes by students in the UK School of Music and it’s paired with UK graduate student Dylan Dean’s master of fine arts exhibit in the Tuska Center for Contemporary Art across the hall from the Guignol Theatre.
Performances will benefit faculty research at the UK College of Fine Arts.
Mar8Filed under: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, ballet, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Country music, dance, Lexington Ballet, Music, Musicals, Opera; Tagged as: 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Alltech Haitian Harmony Children's Choir, American Spiritual Ensemble, California Cowgirls Equestrian Drill Team, Cherryholmes, Culver Academies Black Horse Troop and Equestriennes, Dan James, Dan Steers, Denyce Graves, Eitan Beth-Halachmy, Everett McCorvey, Friesian Train, Global Creative Connections, Mario Contreras, opening ceremonies, Riata Ranch Ropers, Ronan Tynan, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Stacey Westfall, the Lexington Ballet, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Tommie Turvey, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Vince Bruce, Wynonna Judd
If you want to relive the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, or you feel like you never really got to see it in the abbreviated TV broadcast of the ceremonies, the event is now out on a 2-hour DVD from Everett McCorvey’s production company, Global Creative Connections.
The DVD includes performances from guest artists Wynonna Judd, Denyce Graves, Ronan Tynan, Cherryholmes, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Sarah Lee Guthrie – who just had her national TV debut with husband Johnny Irion on Last Call with Caron Daly – as well as the American Spiritual Ensemble, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, the Lexington Ballet and the Alltech Haitian Harmony Children’s Choir. It also contains performances by the equine acts including Culver Academies’ Black Horse Troop and Equestriennes, Mario Contreras, Stacey Westfall, the California Cowgirls Equestrian Drill Team, roper Vince Bruce, the Riata Ranch Ropers, the Friesian Train, dressage cowboy Eitan Beth-Halachmy and extreme riders Tommie Turvey, Dan James and Dan Steers.
The DVD is $25, plus $4.50 shipping and handling, through the company website.
Feb2Filed under: Classical Music, Music, Opera, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Angelique Clay, Bill Gregory, Brent Seales, Dione Johnson, Everett McCorvey, Kenneth Overton, Porgy and Bess, Reginald Smith Jr., Singletary Center for the Arts, UK Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
Here’s a little video look at the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The show continues Feb. 3-6 at the Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall.
Jan2Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Balagula Theatre, Classical Music, Downtown Arts Center, Eastern Kentucky University, LexArts, Lexington Philharmonic, Music, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Singletary Center for the Arts, Theater, Transylvania University, UK; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Aloha, Boston Pops Orchestra, Downtown Arts Center, Eastern Kentucky University performing arts center, Eric Seale, Everett McCorvey, Itzhak Perlman, Joe Cannon Artz, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lyric Theatre, Naomi Iizuka, Norton Center for the Arts, Porgy and Bess, ProjectSEE Theatre, Rupp Arena, Say the Pretty Girls, Scott Terrell, Singletary Center for the Arts, Steven A. Hoffman, Transylvania University Theatre, UK Symphony Orchestra, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra
Gregory Turay and Angelique Clay know this stage well.
“For me, it would have to be Magic Flute and Elixir, when we used to do the operas in here,” Turay says when asked about his favorite memories of performing in the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall.
Clay, who is seated with Turay near the back of the hall, remembers numerous Grand Night for Singing performances and preparing for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions on the Singletary Center’s main stage.
Turay and Clay were part of the University of Kentucky’s voice program in the 1990s, the early years of Everett McCorvey’s current tenure at the top. Now, they are both back in the program, Turay as an artist-in-residence and master’s student, and Clay as an assistant professor of voice. And they both will be back on the Singletary Center stage Sunday afternoon as the tenor and soprano soloists, respectively, in the Lexington Singers’ presentation of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah.
They will be joined by two of UK Opera’s current stars, baritone Reginald Smith Jr. and mezzo-soprano LaShelle Allen.
“I’m going to feel like the small voice in that group,” Turay says with a laugh.
He has been the big star of the UK Opera program, having helped put it on the map with his win in the final round of the 1995 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Since then, he has performed at the Met and on stages around the world.
But he and his family have decided that Lexington is where they want to put down roots, as has Clay, who was surprised to be able to land a professorship at UK less than a decade after graduating.
Having been in the school before, Clay and Turay say they think a lot about the experience for students in a program that now bears little resemblance to the one they were in.
In the grand scheme of great Christmas presents for young opera singers, a rave review from The New York Times would have to rank pretty high. And that is what the UK Opera students in the world premier production of Thomas Pasatieri’s God Bless Us Everyone are enjoying, as Times critic Allan Kozinn declared the show the rare A Christmas Carol-based opera that might just succeed.
The co-production with Dicapo Opera Theatre opened Thursday in New York and runs through Sunday. It was supposed to come to Lexington for performances next week, but those shows at the Lexington Opera House were cancelled due to expenses that exceeded original estimates and low ticket sales. No doubt, the Times review may have helped goose sales a little.
“… this one-act work has ample charms, including an efficient, singable libretto, by Bill Van Horn and Michael Capasso, and an invitingly melodic score, with shapely vocal writing, lively choruses and trim, colorful orchestral writing that never gets in the way of the singing.”
Several singers were individually cited:
“Catherine Clarke Nardolillo sang Elizabeth’s music, particularly her reconciliation duet with Tim, exquisitely. Julie LaDouceur played a sweet-toned Fan to Nicholas Provenzale’s Beau.”
UK Symphony Orchestra director John Nardolillo also got a good notice for his conducting.
UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey said he hopes to bring God Bless Us Everyone to Lexington on a future season.
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