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Release: April 12, 2002

UI Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater presents Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro' April 26, 28

The Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater at the University of Iowa School of Music will present one of the great operas of the 18th century, Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro," in performances at 8 p.m. Friday, April 26 and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 28 in the UI Hancher Auditorium.

The opera will be sung in English. Sally Stunkel will direct a cast of UI students, and William LaRue Jones will conduct the University Symphony.

The first of three operas Mozart wrote on a text by the poet Lorenzo Da Ponte, "The Marriage of Figaro" was first performed May 1, 1786 in Vienna. It was very successful, with nine performances in the first year and 26 more when it was revived in 1789-90. It was even more popular in Prague, leading to the commission for Mozart's second opera with Da Ponte, "Don Giovanni."

The subject of "The Marriage of Figaro" was carefully chosen by Mozart and Da Ponte. An opera on that subject was bound to attract a lot of attention for two reasons: It was based on a play by the French playwright Beaumarchais that had created a sensation in Europe and had quickly been banned because of its revolutionary sentiments; and an opera based on the preceding Beaumarchais play about the same characters, "The Barber of Seville," was popular throughout Europe in a setting by the Italian composer Paisiello.

"The Marriage of Figaro" contains some of the standard character types of 18th-century theater and comic opera: the crafty servant, the lustful but foolish aristocrat, an attractive servant girl and an adolescent boy who falls in love with every woman he meets. Around these stock figures, however, Mozart and Da Ponte created some deeply human and touching characters who transcend the standard comic-opera complications of the plot.

It is above all Mozart's music that brings the characters to life. Musicians and critics agree that "The Marriage of Figaro" is a masterful score, rich in comic situations, suffused by the warmth of human emotions and nearly perfect in its control of timing and dramatic development.

The opera, subtitled "One crazy day," takes place over the course of a single day at the estate of the aristocratic Count and Countess Almaviva. At the beginning of the opera Figaro, the Count's servant, is about to marry the Countess' maid, Susanna. The plot revolves around the Count's attempt to seduce Susanna on her wedding night -- a feudal tradition that the Count has renounced but wants to take advantage of anyway -- and Figaro's efforts to prevent the seduction.

Along the way there are a series of complications that include the attempts of the youthful Cherubino to evade military service and make love to the Countess, a supposed contract forcing Figaro to marry an older woman and the surprise discovery of Figaro's long-lost parents.

All of these twists and turns are resolved in the opera's last act, which takes place in the Count's garden late at night after Figaro and Sussana's wedding. The Countess and Susanna have changed clothes in order to trick the unfaithful Count. He thinks he has a rendezvous with the maid, but the woman he meets in the garden is actually his wife in disguise.

When he thinks he sees Figaro with his wife, the Count is overcome with jealousy. At the crucial moment his wife reveals herself -- and her husband's unfaithfulness. In one of opera's most touching moments, however, she forgives her contrite husband and the opera ends with a scene of reconciliation.

For both performances the title role will be taken by Edward Corpus and the role of Count Almaviva by Mike Shelledy. Susanna will be sung by Lisa Kotara (April 26) and Stephanie Thorpe (April 28); the Countess by Carol Dusdieker (April 26) and Amanda Hyberger (April 28). Barbarina will be performed by Rachel Brummer (April 26) and Kerri Middleton (April 28). In other roles, Natasha Anders will be Marcellina; Adam Lewis will be Don Bartolo; Chad Graham will be Don Basilio; Dan Weinstein will be Antonio; and Clark Sturdevant will be Don Curzio.

Costumes for "The Marriage of Figaro" have been designed by Margaret Wenk of the Division of Performing Arts Production Unit. Lighting is by Laurel Shoemaker. Choreography has been provided by former Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Basil Thompson of the UI dance department. Stage setting is courtesy of the Virginia Opera, Norfolk, Va., by set designer Peter Dean Beck.

Stunkel was appointed director of UI Opera Theater in the fall of 1999. She has directed for many American opera companies, including Sacramento Opera, Tulsa Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Skylight Opera, the Aspen Music Festival, Kentucky Opera and Four Corners Opera. She has more than 70 productions to her credit, including straight theater as well as opera. She headed the opera programs at the former St. Louis Conservatory of Music, the University of Tennessee and the University of the Pacific in California.

Stunkel has performed both as an opera singer, performing with the Colorado Springs Opera, Skylight Opera and Baltimore Opera, and as an actor in spoken plays, having recently portrayed Amanda in "The Glass Menagerie" and Eleanor of Aquitaine in "The Lion in Winter." With more than 15 years of dance training, she has also choreographed several productions.

Stunkel has taught in the apprentice programs at the Des Moines Metro Opera, the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, and the Aspen Music Festival. She was a co-founder/director/writer for The Opera Parade and Kinderopera, two touring educational opera companies for children in Maryland.

A UI music alumnus, Jones joined the faculty of the School of Music in 1997 as director of the University Symphony and director of orchestral studies. Prior to joining the UI faculty, Jones was the founding music director/administrator of the internationally recognized Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.

Jones is a highly honored musician, having received the Twin Cities Mayors' Public Art Award, the American String Teachers Association Exceptional Leadership and Merit Award and the David W. Preuss Leadership Award. He has also been selected Musician of the Year by Sigma Alpha Iota , a music honorary society.

Jones has appeared as a guest conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Sinfonie Orchester AML-Luzern (Switzerland) and other orchestras around the world. He has conducted all-state and festival orchestras in 46 states and five Canadian provinces. He has been conductor-in-residence at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the University of Miami (Fla.).

Tickets for "The Marriage of Figaro" are $18, $15 and $12 ($14, $11 and $8 for UI students, youth and seniors). They may be purchased from the Hancher Auditorium box office.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website:< http://www.uiowa.edu/hancher >.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: <hancherboxoffice@uiowa.edu>.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The School of Music and the Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater are part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts. The production of "The Marriage of Figaro" is supported in part by a gift from the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation, through the University of Iowa Foundation.

For information on UI arts events, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at http://www.uiowa.edu/~music/. The Old Gold Singers have their own web page at http://www.uiowa.edu/~oldgold/. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>.