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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 24, 2004

UI Performing Arts Division Inaugurates Englert Series With 'Amahl'

The University of Iowa Division of Performing Arts will inaugurate its performance series in the Englert Civic Theater in downtown Iowa City with one of America's most popular operas -- and one of the few ever commissioned for television -- when the Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater presents Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, and at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11.

The production will be directed by Gary Race, with a cast of UI students and a chamber orchestra directed by William LaRue Jones.

The performances of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" will be preceded by Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols," performed by the Crescendo Children's Choir of Iowa City, directed by Nancy Macfarlane and accompanied by harpist Pamela Weest-Carrasco.

"Amahl and the Night Visitors" was commissioned for broadcast on NBC television during the Christmas season in 1951, with music by Menotti, who was the most successful American opera composer of the time. It was an immediate hit, and regional, school and university productions have maintained its place among the most popular operas in the United States.

The opera tells the heartwarming story of Amahl, a handicapped child living with his mother in what the score describes as "a disheveled ruin." On a quiet night they are visited by three strange and imposing men -- the Three Kings on their way to Jerusalem. As is the way of such fables, the kings -- and the audience -- learn an important truth from the innocent child, who in turn is healed by a magic that is greater even than the kings.

"It is difficult to imagine a time in the United States when a major television network would commission an opera," Race commented. "Many things about our world have changed since 1951 when NBC commissioned 'Amahl and the Night Visitors.' I have worked on productions of 'Amahl' for more than 30 years, performing and directing productions of the work many times and in many places.

"There are occasions when I watch and listen and sense that it is too sentimental for our distanced world of cell-phones and satellite disks; that its actions and ideas are too simplistic for the complex web of communication that we have woven into 21st-century life. It seems more a fable than a true drama.

"Yet, if there is still room for fables in our culture, 'Amahl' is one worthy of retelling; for many things about our world have remained the same in the 2000 or so years that have passed since the time of our story. There are still poor and starving people, and frustrated single mothers who lose patience with their children. And there are still those who will travel long distances in search of a truth. And, sentimental as it may seem, there are also those who in their own true innocence and faith can turn the world around with the simplest of gestures."

The title role of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" will be shared by Cole Hotek, 12, of Iowa City, performing at 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday; and Elliot Stalter, 10, of Iowa City, performing at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Other cast members are UI students. The mother will be sung by Jamie Marble (8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday) and Maja Lisa FritzHuspen (8 p.m. Saturday). King Kaspar will be sung by John A. Stumpff (8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday) and Quiliano Anderson (8 p.m. Saturday); King Balthazar by Edward Corpus (8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday) and Aaron Bolden Anderson (8 p.m. Saturday); and King Melchior by Charles Moore (all performances).

Scenic and costume design for "Amahl and the Night Visitors" is by Margaret Wenk of the Division of Performing Arts Production Unit. The chorus master is Nancy Macfarlane; choreography is by Deanna Carter of the UI Dance Department.

Gary Race came to the UI in 2003 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, 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, ranging from the Minnesota Orchestra and the Minneapolis Pops to the Penang (Malaysia) Symphony, the Antofagasta (Chili) Symphony and the Symphony Orchestra of Lucerne (Switzerland). Jones has conducted more than 70 all-state orchestras with additional festival/clinics in most of the 50 states and Canadian provinces.

He has served extended conducting residencies at the North Carolina School for the Arts, the University of Miami, Interlochen Academy for the Arts and Kansas City Conservatory. He also is the founding artistic director of the critically acclaimed Conductors Workshop of America. In addition to serving as guest clinician for numerous conducting seminars for professional/educational associations internationally, Jones is music director and conductor of the Oshkosh (Wisc.) Symphony.

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 holds degrees from the University of Wisconsin, the UI and Kansas State University, with additional studies at The Juilliard School of Music and the University of North Texas.

Nancy Macfarlane holds a degree from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. She founded the Willowwind Children's Choir and directed opera performances with children including "Noyes Fludde," "Dido and Aeneas," "Hansel and Gretel" and "The Happy Prince." She has also prepared children's choruses for the UI Symphony and the Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater, the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Cedar Rapids Opera Theater.

Crescendo is an Iowa City organization dedicated to instruction in the performing arts, and offers programs in singing, drama and opera. It is open to talented children from second through eighth grade. Crescendo was founded by Macfarlane in 2004, and the choral program makes its debut with the performances of "A Ceremony of Carols." Crescendo will also appear with the Cedar Rapids Symphony in Hancher Auditorium in December, and with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theater's production of Verdi's "Falstaff" in January. More information can be found at the organization's web site, at www.crescendo.name/.

Tickets to "Amahl and the Night Visitors" are $25; UI students are youth tickets are $10, and senior tickets are $20. Tickets are available from the Englert box office at 221 E. Washington St. in downtown Iowa City, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. For additional ticket information, call 319-688-2653.

The mission of the Englert Civic Theatre, Inc. is to own, maintain and operate the Englert Theatre as a community arts center and performance space, enhancing the vitality of Iowa City's historic downtown by preserving its last historic theater.

The School of Music is 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.