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.
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.
After 26 years, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera is coming to Lexington in a production by the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre.
The iconic Broadway musical is still playing in New York and on national and international tours, usually circumstances that keep producers from licensing shows for other theaters to produce. But Monday morning, UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey said that Kentucky has joined a short list of colleges, including Brigham Young University and Elon College, that have been authorized to produce the show. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, which administers rights to the show, began licensing Phantom to colleges and high schools in 2009.
National tours of Phantom have played Louisville and Cincinnati, but they have never come to Lexington because the Lexington Opera House’s stage house is too small to accommodate the touring show’s massive set, including the chandelier that crashes to the stage at the end of Act 1.
“The chandelier will fall, the boat will go, it will be a full production,” said UK Opera program director Joan Rue.
UK had to meet some stringent requirements get rights from Rodgers and Hammerstein, including that it be an all-student cast and orchestra. McCorvey says the production’s leading actors have been triple cast to accommodate a marathon of 10 performances Oct. 5 to 14.
Tickets to Phantom go on sale Monday to people who subscribe to the rest of the UK Opera season: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro March 1-3 and It’s a Grand Night for Singing June 7-9 and 13-15. Per the rights agreement, tickets will only be available in person at the Lexington Center Ticket Office or by phone at (859) 233-3535. There are no online sales of Phantom tickets.
Alltech gave more than half-a-million dollars in scholarships to potential students in the University of Kentucky’s voice program on Sunday in the seventh annual Alltech Vocal Scholarship Competition.
The competition is sort of like if prospective UK basketball players came to campus and engaged in a public competition for spots on the team. Prospective UK opera students sang for a panel of judges and an opera-loving audience in the Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall, the top winners in the graduate and undergraduate divisions collecting full-ride scholarships and cash stipends, contingent on their attending the University of Kentucky.
In something of a transitional year for UK Opera, the competition is bringing some new faces to campus such as graduate winner Thomas Gunther who hails from the highly regarded University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He earned a full ride, $12,000 and a graduate assistantship. The second place winner was Kathrin M. Thawley from Salisbury University in Maryland who won a full scholarship, $8,000 and a graduate assistantship. Rounding out the graduate division was Andrea Pearson of Oberlin Conservatory, who won $5,000.
In the undergraduate division, the winner was Catherine Wright of Lexington Catholic High School who won $6,000 and a tuition waiver. Second place Alyssa- Marie Detterich of Orange County High School of the Arts, Santa Ana, Calif., won $3,000 and a tuition waiver, and third place winner Austin Vitaliano of Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire, Ill., won $2,000.
Rounding out the winners list was a variety of awards:
Outstanding Transfer Award, $3,000 plus tuition waiver: Brittany Jones of Louisville’s Bellarmine University
Mr. William L. Rouse III “The Barbara Rouse Kentucky Prize,” for a student born or educated in Kentucky, $5,000 – Hyeonjeong Kim
The Gail Robinson Musicianship Award, $2,000 – Whitney Myers
Undergraduate Enthusiasm Award, $1,000 – Tanner Hoertz
Undergraduate Musicianship Award, $1,000 – Tomer Eres
Graduate Musicianship Award, $1,000- Wanessa Rodrigues
Undergraduate Encouragement Award, $1,000 – Laura Powell
Graduate Encouragement Award, $1,000 – Aline Araújo
Transfer Student Encouragement Award, $1,000 – Marvin Myer McCoy of Bowie State University, Bowie, Md.
If history holds true to form, these are likely to be names we will see in upcoming University of Kentucky Opera Theatre productions. Previous Alltech scholarship winners include Julie LaDouceur, who emceed the competition, Reginald Smith Jr. and Amanda Balltrip.
It’s been a couple years since the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre made us laugh.
That was the Spring of 2010 with the batty tale of Die Fledermaus. Since then, we have been in the worlds of Romeo et Juliette and other typically tragic opera fare. So, it’s good to lighten up and finally be in the company of Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff, a comic opera about a character very much beholden to his large appetites and large ego, which often get the better of him.
Like several other Verdi operas, Falstaff is based on a work of William Shakespeare, this time a character that appears in the history play Henry IV and the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor. Falstaff draws largely from Windsor, telling the tale of the rotund, jovial, though somewhat pathetic thief’s attempts to woo the lovely Alice from her husband Ford.
Taking on a comedy again under the direction of Richard Kagey gives the UK opera singers a chance to show off a different set of theatrical skills from what we are used to, and chief among the beneficiaries is Jonathan R. Green in the title role. (This opera is double cast. The performers reviewed here will appear again Saturday night, and a different cast will present the Saturday and Sunday matinees.)
Green’s gravely baritone suits the well-worn thief, and he seems to relish the opportunity to imbue his somewhat delusional character with swagger and naked ego. The best demonstration of this comes right before intermission when Falstaff emerges prepared to woo Alice in a red outfit that looks like a Valentine card factory exploded on him. But in Green’s performance, if he feels at all ridiculous – or self aware – we never see it. Though Falstaff is a drunk and a thief and a glutton and a lecher and a liar and a philanderer, Green gives a performance that makes us root for him.
Of course, if we are rooting for Falstaff, there has to be someone to root against, and that would be Ford. Yes, Falstaff is trying to steal his wife, and Ford is a much more honest man than Falstaff. But in Michael S. Preacely’s performance, we see an obnoxious sense of self righteousness in Ford. We also hear some wonderful singing, particularly toward intermission as Ford vows vegeance against Falstaff. But we’re sitting there thinking someone need to take Ford down a notch or two, and of course they will because this is such a prankster comedy.
This being the first comedy in a while, we get to see new sides of other performers as well, including Catherine Clarke Nardolillo, who gives us some of the vocal flourishes we heard in the fall 2010 production of La Boheme, but it is really delightful to hear her witch voice. Holly Dodson is a real comic find as Mistress Quickly, and Elizabeth Maurey makes a sterling UK Opera debut as Nannetta, letting us hear a voice that is full and flowing, and one we’d like to hear more of. She and Luther Lewis III as Fenton have the most beautiful pure singing of the evening.
Under the direction of John Nardolillo, Catherine’s husband, the UK Symphony also adjusted its tone, playing with a light touch.
As much fun as the cast had acting they also seemed to delight in some of Verdi’s flourishes with the score such as the fuge that closes the opera.
In What’s Opera Doc?, Bugs Bunny asked, “What did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?”
Falstaff reminds us that sometimes, that’s exactly what we can expect.
University of Kentucky senior Rachel Sterrenberg won the encouragement award at Saturday’s Mid-South Regional round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
The soprano from Madison, Ga., has had quite a year as an undergraduate in a program that usually shines its brightest spotlight on graduate students including performing the title female role in Charles Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette in October and following that up with a win at the Kentucky District round of the Met Auditions in November at Memorial Hall.
The winner of the Mid-South Regional was baritone Anthony Clarke Evans, apparently channeling some of the winning mojo of the men’s basketball team at his alma mater, Murray State. According to Amanda Balltrip of Lexington-based United Artists and Authors Agency, the Elizabethtown-based singer has not been taking voice lessons since 2008 and has been working as a car salesman. He’ll need to make time for a trip to New York for the national semi-final round and possibly the finals.
The runners up, who do not advance, were soprano Vanessa Isiguen from Charlotte, N.C., in second place and baritone Thomas Gunther of Cincinnati in third. Gunther was also a Kentucky District winner.
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.
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.
The Associated Press has dropped a cool little video feature on Reshma Shetty, the former University of Kentucky Opera singer who is now starring on USA’s Royal Pains. This is a big season for her character, Divya, who is supposed to get married. But in the final episode last season, her lovelife took a bit of a twist.
Royal Pains airs at 9 Thursday nights and repeats numerous times. If you find it hard to believe she was once here, check out the slideshow atop UK Opera’s website, which features an image of Shetty in the company’s 2001 production of Don Giovanni.
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