The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
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.
The performance program notes her achievements as a performing musician and an arts supporter with both her money and time. But as her voice teacher, Lexington music icon Phyllis Jenness notes, “until last September she had never written a lick.”
Yet, Sunday afternoon, the audience in Central Christian Church was treated to an hour of her works: the Thy Will Be Done and a shorter work, Martyred Maid, based on the story of Joan of Arc. We also heard an Italian version of the Lord’s Prayer, O Padre Nostro, which appears in the English cantata.
While Rice has not composed before, it is fair to say that someone who has been involved in music as much as she has probably has developed a good sense of what makes a piece of music work. Not everyone, of course, can translate that onto sheet music, but Rice appears to have the knack.
No, this is not the new Handel’s Messiah, but then what is? In the grand scheme of church cantatas, Thy Will Be Done is a solid piece of work that should certainly be able to stand with a lot of other offerings on the church cantata market. It’s a straight-forward, scripture-based work that tells the story of Jesus Christ bookended with the promise of Psalm 23 and the instruction of the beatitudes. The instrumentation is piano-based with flourishes from small instrumental ensemble, and it requires a small choral ensemble with a few strong male and female soloists.
Most churches will have a tenor soloist, but precious few have one as strong as Gregory Turay, who led this production as Jesus Christ. In his performance, Rice’s version of the Lord’s Prayer seemed like a plausible alternative to the Albert Hay Malotte version that is often the default setting of the prayer. It Rice’s interpretation, it is lighter and more lyrical than Malotte’s take, which can be driven to grandiose levels.
Rice’s setting of Greater Love also seems to be an ideal hit single in the church choir world.
There are some sterling moments specific to this work too, including the blend of Anabelle Wright-Gatton as Mary and Amanda Balltrip as Elizabeth in Mary’s Song and Duet. Director Lorne Dechtenberg and Turay also navigate Rice’s most dramatic moment, Christ’s plea on the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me,” a dramatic and forceful statement, immediately followed by Jim Smith’s much more subdued narration. He and Sarah Klopfenstein were solid narrators throughout the performance, Klopfenstein sounding as authoritative as she ever has.
It was a little hard to get past the staging of Martyred Maid to hear the piece. Soprano Lori White was very busy following stage directions of dubious importance that drew attention away from what was a melodic and dramatic piece.
Thy Will could do with a little more dramatic and stylistic variety, but a composer’s first offering this strong and of this scope is fairly unanticipated. This debut performance whets the appetite for what could be next from Rice who, in an interview last week, sounded as anxious to get back to writing as she was to hear this performance.
See the show: Romeo et Juliette is the first broadcast on the iHigh Alltech Arts Network. Click here to see the performance reviewed. Click here for the live stream of the 2 p.m. Oct. 23 performance.
Photo gallery: The Oct. 23 and 28 cast of Romeo et Juliette.
Romeo is this young guy who wants to hang out with his pals and has a thing for the prettiest girl in town.
Juliette is that girl, and she wants to embrace all the passion and joy she can in the springtime of her life, especially if it’s in the arms of a dreamboat like Romeo.
It’s too bad their fine romance runs headlong into a family feud that may only be rivaled by the Hatfields and the McCoys.
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a very well-known, well-worn story that is so familiar it’s easy to look right through it.
The first time I saw Charles Gounod’s operatic take on the play, the production did just that. It was very stylish, sumptuously sung and so emotionally vacant I remember just looking at my companion when the curtain fell and saying “let’s get some coffee.”
Romeo et Juliette or any other manifestation of the story should not leave an audience that indifferent.
Director Stephanie Sundine’s production for the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre sure doesn’t.
Thanks in large part to her stars, Gregory Turay and Julie LaDouceur, the story is infused by an emotion familiar to many of us: That passion of first real love that truly does make parting such sweet sorrow. From their first flirtatious glances and laughs to their last moments in each other’s arms, Turay and LaDouceur let the audience know this love means everything to their characters and the chance they could be together in death is more appealing than living without each other.
They are helped along by Gounod’s gorgeous music and the libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre that puts the focus on the love story.
And in Turay, LaDouceur and the rest of the cast, UK and Sundine have people that can really sing this stuff.
Turay has never sounded better on a Lexington stage as he has matured into a smooth, rich tenor voice ideally suited to a romantic lead like this. And he is beautifully paired with LaDouceur, their four duets blending with passionate clarity.
Juliette isn’t just listed in the program first to be polite. As substantive as Romeo’s part is, this is Juliette’s opera, and LaDouceur nailed every highlight including the coquettish Je jeux vivre and harrowing Amour, ranime mon courage, aka The Poison Aria. Lexington audiences have seen LaDouceur grow the last couple years as she earned a masters at UK. Now in the doctoral program, she has established herself as the leading lady of UK Opera Theatre. Let’s enjoy her while we can.
This production is double cast, and Turay and LaDouceur will perform again Oct. 29. The other cast, featuring Manuel Castillo and Rachel Sterrenberg in the title roles, performs Oct. 23 and 28.
This production also highlights UK Opera Theatre’s current depth with strong showings throughout the principal cast, particulary Reginald Smith Jr. as Capulet, more clueless than menacing as he is in the play, and Michael Preacely helping give substance to Romeo’s status as one of the guys playing the best friend, Mercutio.
As Tybalt, Luther Lewis III highlights the story’s dramatic turn between carefree youth and really bad blood, coming across as a gregarious guy in his first scene until the sight of Romeo flips a switch, and he is filled with a hate and rage as unreasonable and unyielding as Romeo and Juliette’s love.
It’s another facet of this production that says this is a case of youthful passions gone tragically awry.
The drama plays out on Richard Kagey’s marvelously simple set that shifts from balcony, to church to tomb and other formations with a minimum of prop changes.
Saturday night’s opening night performance had an event-like air, pretty much packing out the Lexington Opera House.
It was the sort of opening night deserved by this production that succeeds where it is so easy to fail.
Feb7Filed under: Music, Opera, Singletary Center for the Arts, Theater, UK; Tagged as: American Spiritual Ensemble, Angela Brown, Angelique Clay, George Gershwin, Gregory Turay, Kenneth Overton, La Bohème, Larry D. Hylton, Lashelle Allen, Metropolitan Opera, Porgy and Bess, Rodolfo, Sabrina Elayne Carten, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
For the second time in what has become the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre‘s semi-pro season, a Metropolitan Opera singer was on stage Sunday for one of its productions.
Soprano Angela Brown took the stage as Bess is the final performance of UK Opera’s unprecedented production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. This followed last fall’s production of La Boheme featuring UK alumnus and Met vet Gregory Turay as Rodolfo.
Brown was hardly alone as a pro onstage Sunday. Between guest artists and graduate students at UK, numerous singers came to this performance with extensive professional and even P&G credits including Larry D. Hylton’s Sporting Life, a role he has performed around the world since 2003; Sabrina Elayne Carten who has performed Serena in Virginia, New Orleans and sung Maria with New York City Opera; and La’Shelle Allen, a persistent scene-stealer as Maria, who accumulated a distinguished resume before coming to UK. And of course, there was Kenneth Overton as Porgy, a role he has performed in the United States and Europe.
For all of them and numerous student singers, hitting the back of the Singletary Center concert hall was not a problem – this I know as I was perched in Row Y for the sold-out performance. But Brown’s voice was a particular treat, filling the hall with a power we rarely hear and attacking the role of Bess, especially her saucier moments, with gusto. She and Overton combined for what had to be one of the most gorgeous moments in UK Opera history with Bess You is My Woman. I didn’t quite see the interpretation of the role our critic Candace Chaney described in Angelique Clay’s opening night performance. But performing before her biggest Lexington audience ever – Brown has been here with the American Spiritual Ensemble and in solo recitals over the past decade – we had no trouble hearing a voice that wowed Met Opera audiences as Aida and should probably be in strong contention for Bess the next time the legendary opera house presents the show. All of the principals enjoyed strong support from a cast and chorus filled out by UK and Kentucky State University students, members of the community and the American Spiritual Ensemble.
UK Opera is a student company, training singers who expect to be professionals and often have professional credits. That and ardent financial supporters have enabled UK Opera to present productions like Porgy, with guests like Brown and Overton, that leave little to be desired.
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.
Sep30Filed under: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Classical Music, Lexington Opera House, Music, Opera, Reviews, UK; Tagged as: Alfredo, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Alltech Fortnight Festival, Giacomo Puccini, Gregory Turay, La Bohème, La Traviata, Manuel Castillo, Mary-Hollis Hundley, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Mitchell Hutchings, Nicholas Provenzale, Reginald Smith Jr., Rent, Richard Kagey, University of Kentucky Opera
Over the last decade, the University of Kentucky Opera program has been lucky to count Gregory Turay among its alums.
He’s the one who fulfilled the dream of winning at the national level of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, making it into the young artist program and embarking on an international career that we could sometimes tune in on TV or radio. And he occasionally came back for a recital or even a role, as he did in 2006 when appeared as Alfredo in a benefit performance of La Traviata.
UK and Lexington area opera fans are even luckier to have Turay as an artist-in-residence, leading a full UK Opera production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme as part of the Alltech Fortnight Festival in conjunction with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
The Richard Kagey sets and 1920s vibe will be familiar to local opera fans who saw this production in 2008, but the faces are different as many of that productions’ stars have moved on.
Clearly, with many of its artistic leaders involved in numerous activities related to the World Equestrian Games – including UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey heading up the opening and closing ceremonies – the program decided its best contribution to the cultural element of the Games was to revive a recent success.
And Boheme provides a nice showcase for several of the program’s most talented students, particularly Reginald Smith Jr. as Colline and Nicholas Provenzale as Schaunard, a really nice progression for him from Eisenstein in last spring’s production of Die Fledermaus. We’re also introduced to new UK doctoral candidate Mitchell Hutchings as Marcello, and he fits right in with the program that puts a heavy emphasis on acting in its operas.
Sep24Filed under: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, ballet, Classical Music, Country music, dance, Lexington Ballet, Music, Opera; Tagged as: Alicia McCorvey, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Cherryholmes, Cynthia Lawrence, Dan James, Denyce Graves, Eitan Beth-Halachmy, Gregory Turay, Haitian Harmony, Jim Newberry, Lashelle Allen, Leo Delibes, Lexington Ballet, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Mario Contreras, Mark Schlackman, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, Ronan Tynan, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Stacy Westfall, Steve Beshear, Tanya Harper, The California Cowgirls Equestrian Drill Team, The Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls, Tommie Turvey, Vince Bruce, Woody Guthrie, Wynonna Judd
Rehearsals for the opening ceremonies of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games moved to the outdoor stadium of the Kentucky Horse Park Thursday night. The semi-dress rehearsal started at showtime, 7 p.m., and clocked in right around three hours.
With many marquee starts still yet to arrive, there were amusing moments, such as emcee Roger Leasor introducing Wynonna Judd and UK voice student Lashelle Allen taking the stage (and delivering a My Old Kentucky Home Wy might find hard to follow). That happened again when Alicia McCorvey stood in for Denyce Graves and Gregory Turay subbed for Ronan Tynan.
While not a complete show, the stumble-through rehearsal gave us some ideas what to look for Saturday night, whether you are coming out to the Horse Park or watching on WLEX.
Local talent: Much has been made of the big name acts lending their talent to the show, including Bluegrass stars Cherryholmes and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. But there is plenty of local talent on stage and behind the scenes, from the legion of more than 150 area children that will pop up frequently and the dancers with the Lexington Ballet to the lighting design by UK’s Tanya Harper and production supervisor Mark Schlackman, who keeps everything moving.
Beautiful blends of horse and man: The show has been billed as a mix of human and equine talent, and they frequently mix beautifully. One to really watch for is Dan James’ ride atop two horses as Metropolitan Opera Stars Graves and Cynthia Lawrence, now part of UK’s voice faculty, sing Leo Delibes’ Flower Duet from Lakme.
Brushes with history: The entertainment portion of the program, which will begin with a parade of nations and proclamations from Mayor Jim Newberry, Gov. Steve Beshear and Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, president of the International Equestrian Federation, purports to tell the story of America. One moment to appreciate is Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie, singing her granddad’s anthem This Land is Your Land as Stacy Westfall rides bareback in the ring.
Three ring circus: The Wide Open West segment floods the arena with The California Cowgirls
Equestrian Drill Team, Vince Bruce, The Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls, Eitan Beth-Halachmy, Tommie Turvey and Dan James, one of several times you don’t know quite where to look because so much is happening.
Stories: Mixed in amongst the tunes and horse tricks are numerous stories of artists and their journies to that stage. Think about Wynonna Judd, once living in poverty is rural Madison County, now singing Kentucky’s song at one of the Commonwealth’s biggest events ever. Think about the Haitian Harmony children, who just departed their impoverished nation Wednesday and now sing before thousands of people with major stars.
It’s quite a way to start a fortnight of huge dreams.
Mar12Filed under: Classical Music, Music, Opera, Reviews, slide shows, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Amanda Balltrip, Angelique Clay, Barbara Bailey, Catherine Clarke Nardolillo, Cynthia Lawrence, Daniel Koehn, Die Fledermaus, Dione Johnson, Gregory Turay, Hansel and Gretel, Joahann Strauss II, John Nardolillo, La Bohème, Lucia di Lammermoor, Michael Friedman, Nicholas Provenzale, Pam Miller, Reginald Smith Jr., Richard Kagey, River of Time, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
Who knew these UK Opera kids were so funny?
The last few years, they haven’t had much of a chance to show it. They’ve been dealing with subjects like slavery (River of Time), murder (Lucia di Lammermoor), pretty young things dying of loathsome diseases (La Boheme and River of Time) and childhood abandonment issues (Hansel and Gretel).
Oh, where’s an operetta with a ridiculous little plot when you need one?
That’s what the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre is offering up through Saturday with its production of Joahann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, a show as silly as its title sounds.
This may sound like an easy assignment, but ask anyone who’s tried to make an audience laugh and they’ll tell you, comedy is tough. Die Fledermaus needs the laughs, because without them, the show is nearly three-hours of memorable melodies strung together by the thinnest of plots.
Three residents of a house, Eisentein and Rosalinda and their maid, Adele, are invited to the same party, but they each think they are sneaking out on the others. It’s all part of an elaborate prank by Dr. Falke to get back at Eisenstein for a humiliation in the past. This is one of those plots popular in opera and Shakespeare that depends on intimate acquaintances suddenly not being able to recognize each other in close proximity.
You need to be laughing to maintain your suspension of disbelief.
Fortunately, we discovered Thursday night that the ranks of UK Opera include several gifted comic singer-actors.
University of Kentucky graduate and Metropolitan Opera tenor Gregory Turay will perform Thursday night in a concert to benefit the Rotary International’s Polio Plus program.
Turay, an artist-in-residence this year at the University of Kentucky, will perform the second half of a concert that will also feature multiple artists performing on a variety of instruments in a variety of styles including Bluegrass and gospel. It will be at 7 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 28) at Versailles Presbyterian Church, 130 N. Main St. There is no admission charge, but an offering will be taken to benefit Polio Plus, a program that seeks to eradicate Polio. Rotary is currently working to raise $200 million to match a $355 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Oct10Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, dance, Music, Opera, Reviews, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Aaron Copland, Alan Gershwin, American Spiritual Ensemble, Angela Brown, Angelique Clay, Everett McCorvey, Gregory Turay, Jane Gentry Vance, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Jonathan Palmer, Kentucky Chautauqua, Kentucky Humanities Council, Lexington Singers, Lexington Vintage Dance Society, Margaret Garner, Mark O'Connor, Michael Breeding, Nick Clooney, Our Lincoln, Peter Thomas, Richard Danielpour, River of Time, UK Chorale, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
The presentation of Our Lincoln at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in February was undeniably a big deal for Kentucky arts and humanities.
Artists who live and work here were presented on one of the nation’s most prestigious stages along with hometown kids who have made good and a few international stars, such as violinist Mark O’Connor. A production conceived and produced in Central Kentucky went to an international arts showplace and acquitted itself admirably.
I sat with a Washington cameraman who went on at length about how great the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra is. It was one of numerous anecdotes about seasoned Washington arts observers who were impressed with Our Lincoln.
But it is understandable that this might be lost on people who weren’t among the 1,463 people who saw the performance, given while the state was in the throes of an ice storm. Overseeing recovery efforts forced Gov. Steve Beshear to cancel his plans to attend.
But now Beshear and anyone else who would like to see the show can catch it in Michael Breeding’s PBS-quality DVD, which has just been released.
After raising the money to get the program to Washington, the Kentucky Humanities Council had to go back to the well for an additional $6,500 to produce the DVD, with the total costs to be recouped through sales.
What we can now see is that Breeding and his crew captured the proceedings in stunning detail, with shots that take the viewer onto the stage with the performers and also relay the grandeur of the occasion.
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