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University of Iowa News Release

April 12, 2004

UI Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater Performs 'Carmen' April 30 Through May 2

The University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater will present one of the most popular operas of all time, "Carmen" by Georges Bizet, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 30 and May 1, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 2, in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.

The production will be directed by Gary Race, and the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by William LaRue Jones. Scenic and costume design are by Margaret Wenk of the Division of Performing Arts Production Unit.

"Carmen" will be performed in the composer's original version, with spoken dialogue between musical numbers. It will be performed in English, in a translation by Mildred Miller and Helen Knox, with additional translation and spoken dialogue by Race.

More than 100 performers from the UI student body and local community are involved in the production, including a cast of 13 singers, a chorus of 26, a children's chorus of 18 and an orchestra of more than 70 players.

The story is familiar to all opera lovers: Don Jose, a corporal assigned to the dragoon guard in Seville, breaks up a fight in the cigarette factory. He is supposed to arrest Carmen, the gypsy girl who started the fight, but when he allows her to escape he is sent to prison in her place.

When he is released, he immediately comes to see Carmen in an inn on the outskirts of Seville. Still intoxicated by her exotic allure, he deserts his regiment and casts his lot with Carmen and the gypsy smugglers. Carmen soon tires of Don Jose and attracts the attentions of Escamillo, the greatest bullfighter in Seville. In the final scene, Escamillo enjoys his greatest triumph while Don Jose confronts Carmen outside the bullring, leading to the opera's tragic end.

To capture the story's Spanish flavor, Race and Wenk turned to the artwork of Pablo Picasso for inspiration reflected in the production's design. "Picasso seemed an ideal starting point," Race explained. "All of his work is essentially Spanish in color, shape and imagery. The audience probably won't notice this, because there are no Picasso paintings used directly, or reproduced in the set. It's more a matter of underlying tone and inspiration: the shapes and the color palette are drawn from specific Picasso works that we looked at."

Race said he and the students in the cast also tried to look at the story through contemporary eyes, rather than relying on previous interpretations of the opera.

"For more than 100 years 'Carmen' has been a mainstay in the repertoires of opera companies large and small throughout the world," Race said. "Its appeal is clear -- memorable melodies, vibrant music and a fast-paced adventure story. But unless you have witnessed several decades of productions, it is less clear how interpretations of the work have transformed since its premiere in 1875.

"The music and story have spawned many versions, from the 1954 film 'Carmen Jones' to a recent hip-hopera version produced by MTV. There are many others. Less obvious, but perhaps more intriguing is the way in which the focus of the story has shifted throughout history.

"At different times, 'Carmen' has been the wicked woman who seduces an innocent soldier and a free spirit who stumbles on a crazed and dangerous man. There are many variations, and each seems to reflect the cultural and social atmosphere of the time.

"In a time of violent unrest -- political, economic and domestic -- the story takes on a new hue. Our design and production artists and our youthful cast have taken a hard look at this. What we hope you will experience is the most truthful story we are able to tell. You may not recognize it as your last 'Carmen.' But you can be sure, there will be another production somewhere very soon!"

All major roles in the UI production of 'Carmen' will be taken by students in the School of Music. The title role will be sung by Jamie Marble (April 30 and May 2) and Lacretta Ross (May 1). Don Jose will be performed by Dennis Willhoit (April 30 and May 2) and Quiliano Anderson (May 1). Escamillo will be performed by Edward Corpus. Micaela, a young girl from Jose's home village, will be performed by Emily Johnson (April 30 and May 2) and Gina McCormally (May 1).

In supporting roles, Frasquita and Mercedes, Carmen's gypsy friends, will be performed by Maggie Mueller and Katharine Ruestow; the gypsy smugglers Dancairo and Remendado will be performed by Kevin Blakeslee and Ryan Bernemann. Michael Krzankowski will portray Zuniga, the lieutenant of the guard, and Paul Davis will perform the role of innkeeper Lillas Pastia.

Gary Race came 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, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Utah Opera.

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.

Tickets for Carmen are $20 and $15; UI student and youth tickets are $12 and 10. Tickets are available through 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: hancher-box-office@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 to accompany this story will be posted Tuesday, April 13, at http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa/photos.html.