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University of Iowa News Release

April 145, 2006

UI Opera Theater Will Present Pulitzer-Winning 'Crucible' April 28 & 30

"The Crucible," Robert Ward's Pulitzer-Prize winning opera based on Arthur Miller's epoch-making play of the same title, will be the spring production of the University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday, April 28, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30, in the UI Hancher Auditorium.

The production will feature a cast of UI students. The stage director will be Gary Race, director of the opera theater; William LaRue Jones, UI director of orchestral studies, will conduct the University Symphony. Scene and costume design are by Margaret Wenk of the Division of Performing Arts Production Unit.

The UI has a place in the history of the opera: Following its 1961 premiere at the New York City Opera, the UI was the second opera theater to produce "The Crucible."

This year, the composer will visit Iowa City to attend the production and present a lecture for the UI Opera Studies Group. His talk on "The Role of the Stage Director in Current Opera Productions," at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 27, in Room E246 of the Adler Journalism Building, will be free and open to the public.

Ward will also visit with composition students in the UI School of Music during his visit, which is sponsored by the Opera Studies Group, the voice/opera area of the School of Music and the Composition Department.

"The Crucible" has become one of the most performed operas by an American composer, due largely to its enduring appeal to traditional opera audiences. As the Gramophone magazine noted, "Ward's music is swift moving and gratefully lyrical." Writing in the New York Times, critic John Rockwell added, "'The Crucible' has a superb libretto . . . and it has a score that balances folkish Americana with (its) devil-possession effects."

Like the play, Ward's opera takes place before and during the Salem witch trials of 1692. The story -- although trimmed for the operatic stage -- is the same one familiar from Miller's play and Nicholas Hytner's 1996 movie staring Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield and Joan Allen.

Abigail Williams, the niece of the fire-and-brimstone preaching Rev. Parris, is caught late one night, dancing in the woods with other village girls. As rumors spread of witches invading Salem, she accuses John and Elisabeth Proctor, on whose farm she had been a servant, of practicing witchcraft. Hysteria grows among the girls in the village, and more and more of the adults are accused of being witches. Only Proctor has the courage to stand up to Parris and Deputy Gov. Danforth of Boston and risk death by denying his guilt.

When the play appeared in 1952, it was quickly interpreted as a reaction to the "red scare" of the late 1940s and '50s and the congressional hearings into supposed communist infiltration of Hollywood. Miller himself was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities four years after the play's premiere, and was found in contempt of Congress for his refusal to name names.

Race has written about the transformation of Miller's play into an opera: "The transformation process of play to opera involves many things. First and foremost, the text must be severely edited. The time occupied by music and song usurp some of the communicative function of words. . . . This transformation can narrow the intellectual scope of the text, but, in skilled hands, the addition of music will evoke deep emotional and intuitive meanings.

"Robert Ward's opera is successful in this light. Miller's play may draw our attention more powerfully to the socio-political themes in the story; Ward's opera focuses on the inner struggles of the same characters."

Race has also written about the political content of play and opera: "For most of the students, the events of the 1940s and '50s are as distant as the Salem Trials. But they have found the transcripts from this more recent witch-hunt intriguing and, at times, frightening. It has helped to heat things up that again in our country we are dealing with the issues of personal privacy and community protection."

"The Crucible" calls for a large cast of singers. Students performing in leading roles are: Michael Krzankowski as John Proctor; Elisabeth Bieber as Elizabeth Proctor; Jocelyn Fekel as Abigail Williams; Christopher Thompson as Rev. Parris; Paul Morel as Rev. John Hale; Hillary Foster as the slave Tituba; Heather Youngquist as Mary Warren; and Christopher Diehl as Deputy Gov. Danforth

Other artistic contributions to the UI production of "The Crucible" include lighting design by Marcus Dilliard and vocal role preparation by Shari Rhoads. Eric McEnaney has been assistant coach and pianist.

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, 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 (Wis.) Symphony.

Tickets for "The Crucible"-- priced at $25/20; $12/10 for UI student and youth; $20/16 for senior citizens -- are available 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. 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: www.hancher.uiowa.edu.

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 Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater and the UI School of Music are parts 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: TV and still photographers may attend and photograph any of the rehearsals of "The Crucible"; please contact Peter Alexander (see above) for details. Dress rehearsals with sets and costumes will be held Monday through Wednesday, April 24-26. Photos of the dress rehearsal of "The Crucible" will be posted on Wednesday, April 26, at www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa/photos.html.

OTHER INFORMATION: The Crucible: Play and Opera

A Brief History by Gary Race

During the last years of the 1940s and the first years of the 1950s, playwright Arthur Miller watched the increasingly ugly spectacle of his own friends and acquaintances in New York and Hollywood harassed, bullied, and sometimes ruined by Senator Joseph McCarthy's House Committee on Un-American Activities. Miller, in the full flood of his creative life (having won the Pulitzer in 1949 for "Death of a Salesman"), wrote "The Crucible" in a creative atmosphere ever more poisoned by fear, accusation, and personal betrayals which could cost the accused both life and livelihood.

Written in 1952, "The Crucible" takes place some 260 years before, in 17th century theocratic Salem. However, the issues were immediate to Miller, who was fast becoming the major American theatrical voice on social issues during the Cold War. Miller's urgent tone betrays the reality of McCarthy's threat. The blacklist meant artistic death -- scripts weren't bought or produced and audiences dried up -- and the blacklist came close to Miller. Indeed, during the very year that Miller wrote "The Crucible," fellow writer Lillian Hellman was answering the now famous first question of Senator McCarthy's catechism, "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?"

"The Crucible" premiered at the Martin Beck Theatre in January 1953, with staging by Jed Harris and at first received lukewarm notices. In 1957, when it was revived off-Broadway, the work received the recognition Miller knew it deserved. Such vindication must have been sweet. In a marvelous instance of life imitating art, the year before, in 1956, Miller himself was called to testify before McCarthy. Like many others, including a character he had created in his play, Miller refused to name names, and thereupon was convicted of contempt of Congress.

Enter composer Robert Ward. Ward first saw Miller's play during its off-Broadway run in 1957. Immediately recognizing the suitability of the work for adaptation to the operatic stage, Ward proposed the project to the playwright, who readily accepted the idea. The New York City Opera Company and its director, Julius Rudel, commissioned "The Crucible" under a grant from the Ford Foundation. Fifteen months later, in October 1961, the opera premiered at New York City Opera and was an instant success. In 1962, Robert Ward received a Pulitzer Prize for the score and the New York Critics Circle Citation. The cast included Frances Bible as Elizabeth Proctor, Norman Treigle as Reverend Hale, Chester Ludgin as John Proctor, and Patricia Brooks as Abigail.

Since then, Robert Ward's "The Crucible" has remained central to the core repertoire of modern American opera. The University of Iowa Opera Theater first performed Ward's opera in 1962.