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University of Iowa News Release

November 26, 2003

(Photo: UI faculty members Stephen Swanson and Rachel Joselson will perform in "Midnight at Maxim's: A Merry Night with the Merry Widow.")

'Midnight at Maxim's' Marks Opera Director's First UI Production

Gary Race, the newly appointed director of the University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater, will take his opening bow before local audiences with "Midnight at Maxim's: A Merry Night with the Merry Widow" -- not actually at midnight, but at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

"Midnight at Maxim's" is in fact Race's adaptation and translation of Franz Lehar's beloved operetta "The Merry Widow," presented in a concert performance. The performance will feature a cast of faculty and students from the UI School of Music, as well as -- in his operatic stage debut -- the musically gifted president of the UI, David J. Skorton.

The UI Chamber Orchestra will play for the performance, which will be conducted by William LaRue Jones.

The plot of "The Merry Widow" grows out of a diplomatic dilemma for Pontevedro, a very small and isolated mid-European nation. Just before the curtain goes up, Pontevedro has come to prominence and the hitherto obscure country has only recently established an embassy in France. The diplomatic corps is still adjusting to the change from the rustic Pontevedrian countryside to the bustling streets of Paris when news arrives that the fatherland is in deep financial trouble. The problem must be solved immediately or Pontevedro will go bankrupt!

Meanwhile, the newly widowed and now fabulously wealthy Pontevedrian, Hanna Glawari, has just arrived in Paris. Her fortune alone could save the country, but there is a risk that it will be lost to a French love affair. Pontevedrian Count Danilo Danilovitch was once in love with Hanna, but since then has become a diplomat sworn to bachelorhood. In their reunion, there are solutions to many problems, both political and personal. But as in all operettas, complex obstacles stand in the way.

Race's adaptation simplifies the plot that grows out of this situation, while keeping the best parts of the show. "Versions of 'The Merry Widow' abound," Race explains. "Editions do not agree on something as fundamental as the widow's name, and the dialogue has been rewritten so many times it is difficult to determine an 'authentic' version.

"But, ah, the music! In America it is Lehar's most popular score, and it is easy to see -- or should I say hear -- why. Romantic heart-throbbing duets, startling dramatic ensembles, dancing girls, dancing guys -- the show has everything."

"For our current version, every attempt was made to keep the best music, the humor and the flavor of this sparkling work. Unfortunately some details had to be trimmed -- which only means that everyone will have to return in a few years to see our complete production of 'The Merry Widow!' For now, it is my sincere wish that 'Midnight at Maxim's' whirls with the spirit of the waltz, and warms the winter evening."

In addition to Skorton, faculty cast in "Midnight at Maxim's" are Rachel Joselson in the title role; Stephen Swanson as her might-be lover and savior of Pontevedro, Count Danilo Danilovitch; and John Muriello as the Pontevedrian Ambassador to Paris. Special guest appearances will be made by Katherine Eberle and Susan Sondrol Jones.

Skorton appears in the speaking role of Njegus, secretary to the ambassador.

Students appearing in major roles are Heather Youngquist as the ambassador's wife; and Quiliano Anderson as Count Camille de Rossillon.

"Midnight at Maxim's" marks the second consecutive year that the Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater has presented a concert adaptation of a popular operetta to close the fall semester. Last year, performances of "Orlofsky's Ball," a concert adaptation of Johann Strauss's "Die Fledermaus," were given in December to benefit the opera theater.

Although he is new to opera, Skorton is already known to Iowa audiences. A former professional blues and jazz musician, he has played saxophone and flute with Close Enough, a jazz combo that includes several prominent local personalities, and he is a co-host of "As Night Falls," the weekly jazz program on KSUI, UI's public radio station.

Gary Race comes to the UI from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he served as director of opera for six years. He was also artistic director of Lyric Opera Cleveland for two seasons. His 30-plus years of experience include the direction of more than 100 productions for regional companies including Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati Opera, Tri-Cities Opera, Whitewater Opera, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Utah Opera. In 1994 he made his European debut directing "Madame Butterfly" for the Stadtheater Lueneburg in Germany.

As an educator Race has presented workshops on performance techniques for opera singers in colleges and universities across the country, including Carnegie-Mellon, Cornell, Duquesne, Syracuse, Miami University, Ithaca College, and the University of Maryland at College Park. He has created and directed arts education programs for many opera companies, for Gateway to the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh, and the National Symphony Orchestra, where he continues to serve as an education consultant.

A UI music alumnus, William LaRue 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 has appeared as a guest conductor with a wide array of professional, festival, collegiate and student ensembles throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia. He has conducted more than 70 all-state orchestras with additional festival/clinics in most of the 50 states and Canadian provinces. Jones is currently music director and conductor of the Oshkosh (Wis.) Symphony. A highly honored musician, he received the Twin Cities Mayors' Public Art Award, the American String Teachers Association Exceptional Leadership and Merit Award. He has also been selected Musician of the Year by Sigma Alpha Iota , a music honorary society.

A singer whose work ranges from opera and operetta to concert and musical theater, Muriello joined the UI School of Music faculty in the fall of 1997. His most recent engagements include performances in the title role of the UI Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater production of Tartuffe in 2001. He has performed operatic and musical theater roles with Opera Carolina, the Banff Centre in Canada, L'Opera Francais of New York, Skylight Opera Theater, Ohio Light Opera and the Southeastern Savoyards of Atlanta. His roles have ranged from Guglielmo in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" and Marcello in Puccini's "La Boheme" to Voltaire in Bernstein's "Candide."

Swanson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music in 1994. For nearly 20 years before that date he had an active operatic career in Europe. During that time his repertoire grew to 91 roles in opera, operetta and musicals. He has sung on German, Austrian and Dutch radio broadcasts and has been a featured soloist in European festivals including the Berliner Festwochen, the Days of Contemporary Music in Dresden and the Festa Musica Pro in Assisi, Italy. Swanson has also had an extensive career as a concert singer, appearing as featured soloist with many U.S. orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony under Sir Georg Solti, Raphael Fruehbeck de Burgos and Margaret Hillis.

Before joining the School of Music faculty in the fall of 1997, Joselson spent 13 years in Europe performing in opera and concert with theaters and orchestras in Darmstadt, Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn, Basel, Barcelona, Bilbao, Braunschweig, Brussels, Kiel, St. Gallen, Trier, and other cities in Germany, Switzerland and Spain. In this country she has appeared in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Madison, Johnson City, Tenn., and New Brunswick, N.J. In the 1995-96 season she had her first engagement at the Metropolitan Opera, and was engaged by London's Covent Garden for their 1992 Japan tour with Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

An alumna of the UI School of Music, Susan Jones has had an extremely diverse professional career, having appeared in opera and oratorio throughout the Midwest, been a member of the renowned Dale Warland Singers and the Bach Society of Minnesota, and sung solo recitals with a variety of instrumental combinations. A great deal of her career has focused on the teaching of singing, beginning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Summer Music Clinic and extending to faculty appointments at the UW Parkside and the MacPhail Center for the Arts at the University of Minnesota. At the MacPhail Center she served as chair of the voice department and initiated a series of Artist Master Classes that has served as the model for similar programs throughout the country.

Eberle has performed internationally in opera, concert and solo recitals. In the past 10 years she has performed more than 45 professional engagements with orchestras, choral organizations and chamber music groups. Concert credits include solo performances with symphonies in Detroit, Lansing and Saginaw, Mich.; and Atlanta, Macon, Rome, and Valdosta, Ga. Her extensive performing schedule has not deterred her active work as a clinician and master class teacher. Since 1990 she has given college-level master classes in the United States, Argentina, Korea, Peru and Brazil. She has appeared as guest lecturer at the Summer Vocology Institute at the National Center for Voice and Speech and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Tickets to "Midnight at Maxim's" are $20 for adults, $10 for UI students, children under 17 and seniors. Patron tickets at $50 will include an invitation to the "Afterglow Party" with the cast on stage after the performance.

Tickets are available through the Hancher Auditorium box office. 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 may be requested by e-mail: hancherboxoffice@uiowa.edu.

The School of Music and Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater are part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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/. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <ur-acr@uiowa.edu>.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Peter Alexander, 319-384-0072, peter-alexander@uiowa.edu.

PHOTOS are available at http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa/photos.html.