OPERA REVIEW: IU’s revival of Rossini’s ‘Italian Girl in Algiers’ ‘awfully good fun’

By Peter Jacobi

IMG_5920The downer on both Friday and Saturday evenings was that there were too many empty seats in the Musical Arts Center. Mind you, the seats that were filled seemed to be occupied by happy campers because their cheers and laughter and applause generously kept coming throughout the performances.

Those present had good reason to so respond because IU Opera Theater’s current revival of Rossini’s delightfully absurd little comedy, “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” is awfully good fun.

And that’s why the downer element: every empty seat represented a lost opportunity for someone to have had an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Both the opera and the production deserved full houses.

Not that there was always perfection on stage. Rossini’s “Italian Girl,” in addition to being delightful and absurd and little, is an immensely difficult undertaking for any opera company, certainly for one built on young and still settling voices. The score abounds in coloratura, particularly for the mezzo selected to sing the title role, Isabella, and the tenor who portrays and sings her lover, Lindoro. They are faced consistently with too many notes stretched across their vocal range, all the way from extreme lows to highs, with abundant leaps and often with the need to negotiate passages with great speed.

That auditions came up with a pair of Isabellas and a pair of Lindoros is more than one should have hoped for. But there they were, Veronica Jensen and Francisco Orrega Huerta on Friday and Deniz Uzun and Lucas Wassmer on Saturday. The two Isabellas tackled their hurdles as if without hesitation or trepidation. Not only that, but they created full-blooded personages: Isabella may be the object of Mustafa’s desire, but she has the will to outmaneuver this Bey of Algiers and get herself and her fellow Italians away from his grasp.

If anything, the part of Lindoro is even more difficult to fulfill. There are more coloratura mezzos around than coloratura tenors. Both Huerta and Wassmer skipped some notes here and there and occasionally went askew when faced with dramatic jumps to the top. But they were brave performers and earned kudos for themselves as both singers and actors.

The third critical role in this opera buffo of Rossini is that of Mustafa. He is a tiger of a monarch who turns out to be a kitten and decides, in the end, that he’d much rather keep the submissive wife he wanted to get rid of than face the future with an Italian girl, with Isabella, whose independent streak will most likely give him nothing but grief. IU’s production features two strong bass-baritones: Stefano de Peppo, on Friday, and Rafael Porto, on Saturday, offered rollicking portrayals of a potentate reduced to fool. They had much to sing and much to do and did so exceedingly well.

All of the singers benefited from the presence of guest conductor Marzio Conti and guest stage director Julia Pevzner. Maestro Conti, from an overture deliciously played by the Concert Orchestra right through to second act curtain, kept commendable control of musical matters, in the pit and on stage. One never forgot in listening that this was Rossini; the needed bounce and bubbles were always present.

Pevzner gave the singers — including Walter Huff’s well-trained, all male chorus — the wherewithal to be comic, the willingness to let go of inhibitions and enter into the opera’s zany make-believe of a world and inhabit it.

The rest of the cast added to the ever-building nonsense: sopranos Brooklyn Snow and Natalie Weinberg as Elvira, the wife Mustafa wanted to rid himself of; baritones Edward Graves and Heeseung Chae as the captain of Mustafa’s corsairs, given the assignment to find a substitute wife and happy to have Isabella come along to save him from his boss’s threat of impalement; mezzos Marianthi Hatzis and Anna Hashizume as Elvira’s maid, and — most importantly — baritones Connor Lidell and Bruno Sandes as Taddeo, Isabella’s befuddled admirer. Sandes, it was duly noted, added whimsical, laughter-stirring choreography to his portrayal.

Daniela Siena contributed excellent diction coaching; the Italian language as sung sounded genuinely Italian. Patrick Mero’s lighting added to the effectiveness of a simple set designed some years ago for a production of Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio” by Robert O’Hearn, a palatial façade with usable doors and windows plus a blue streak low on canvas to suggest the Mediterranean. Dana Tzvetkova deserves praise for the costumes.

I recommend the production. Come fill those seats.


© Herald Times 2014


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Jason Duika sings Verdi at Carnegie’s Isaac Stern and is hired by Palm Beach Opera to cover major roles

jason duikaBaritone Jason Duika has had a banner year.   In late April of this past spring, he appeared opposite fellow alumnus Andrew Lunsford to sing the Si pel ciel from Verdi’s Otello and Di provenza from his La traviata. Since then, Duika was one of 7 finalists in the inaugural James Toland vocal arts competition in Oakland, California and sang Ford’s aria and Ya vas lyublyu. He has also been hired by Palm Beach opera to be the baritone in their young artist program, and to cover Marcello and Schaunard in their December 2014 La Boheme.

Duika earned his Performers Diploma in 2012 from Indiana University and also holds a Bachelor of Arts in voice from Alma College, a Masters of Music in voice performance from Portland State University.

More information here: http://vimeo.com/99891197

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Jacobs alumna Galia Arad to perform at Glastonbury Festival

GaliaGalia Arad, a JSoM alumna and former student of Alice Hopper and Meredith Mills Kiesgan, will be performing at the Glastonbury Festival on Sunday, June 29 in the Acoustic Tent.

During her time at Indiana University, Arad studied voice and musical theatre, and was a member of the Singing Hoosiers.

Read More: http://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk/line-up/line-up-2014/

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Jacobs alumna Ursula Kuhar to present at the 2014 Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) Annual Conference

Ursula Kuhar mezzo headshotsmallJacobs School of Music alumna Ursula Kuhar (DM Voice ’11) will be presenting on case studies and technology in the classroom at the 2014 Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) Annual Conference in Montreal, Canada this May.

She is currently Director and Assistant Professor of Arts Management at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Kuhar holds a BS in arts administration with honors and MM in music education from Butler University, a diploma from Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne, and a DM in Voice from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. An active mezzo-soprano, she has performed extensively throughout Europe and the Americas, specializing in 20th century American works, and is a recent Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Regional Finalist.

Read more here: http://2014aaaeannualconference.sched.org/event/8b240e26ab128ecf53afc6acf9423fac#.U39b0SihhnY

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Jacobs alumnus Richard Barrett to perform with Cappella Romana at Getty Villa

Richard Barrett (BM, Vocal Performance, ’05), presently a PhD candidate in the Indiana University Department of History completing a dissertation titled “Civic Devotions to the Mother of God in Late Antique Byzantium: Liturgy, Music, Memory and Topography in the History of a City” under the supervision of Deborah Deliyannis, will join acclaimed vocal ensemble Cappella Romana (http://www.cappellaromana.org) for two concerts at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, CA on May 17 and 18, 2014.

Barrett was also the recipient of the Herman B. Wells Graduate Fellowship for the coming academic year, and will be a Visiting Fellow in Residence at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology for 2014-2015.

Read more about the concerts here: http://www.getty.edu/museum/programs/performances/villa_concerts.html

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Jacobs Alumna Among Winners Named in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions

AmandaWoodbury180The Metropolitan Opera National Council recently announced Jacobs alumna Amanda Woodbury as one of its 5  winners for the 2014 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.  Amanda was one of 9 vocalists who performed with the Met Opera Orchestra during the final round of the competition.

Soprano Amanda Woodbury completed her undergraduate degree at the Jacobs School of Music in 2010 and performed as First Lady in IU Opera Theater’s 2009 production of Die Zauberflöte. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Read more here: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/winners-named-in-the-metropolitan-opera-national-council-auditions/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

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Update on alumnus Jason Wickson

jason wicksonSince mid-2012, tenor Jason Wickson has been on a non-stop 18 month journey, performing and debuting eight of opera’s most demanding tenor roles in 12 productions. Roles include: Calàf in Turandot, Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut, Don José in Carmen, Macduff in Macbeth, Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West, Erik in Der fliegende Holländer, Florestan in Fidelio, and Pollione in Norma. His performance as Erik in Der fliegende Holländer prompted The New York Times to write, “Best was another tenor, Jason Wickson, as a passionate, bronze-toned Erik. With his hapless love for Senta, Erik seems ridiculous in many productions, but Mr. Wickson gave him affecting seriousness.”

In the fall of 2013, Jason made his international debut as Narraboth in Salome with Opera Hong Kong. In April of 2014, Jason will continue his journey as Calaf in Turandot with the Shreveport Opera.

Jason earned a Performer Diploma in Voice from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in 2008.

Read More: http://www.uzanartists.com/?post_type=portfolio&p=7833

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Singing Hoosiers perform spring concert

By Alyssa Schor


It was a blend of old and new.

The Jacobs School of Music’s Singing Hoosiers took the IU Auditorium stage Saturday for two performances of its annual spring concert.

The Singing Hoosiers, now in its 64th season, are led by Steve Zegree, the Pam and Jack Burns Professor of Music at the Jacobs School.

“We’ve been waiting for you,” Zegree said to the audience. “What took you so long to get here?”

A member of the Singing Hoosiers sings during the spring concert on Saturday at the IU Auditorium. The Singing Hoosiers perform a mixture of modern songs and classics during their concert, which includes dance routines.

A member of the Singing Hoosiers sings during the spring concert on Saturday at the IU Auditorium. The Singing Hoosiers perform a mixture of modern songs and classics during their concert, which includes dance routines.

The Grammy-nominated ensemble sang and danced to everything from classics by Hoagy Carmichael to “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Following spring concert tradition, Singing Hoosiers alumni joined the group onstage for “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

The performance also featured two medleys arranged, choreographed, costumed and produced entirely by students.

The first medley paid tribute to heroes and villains and included theme songs from “Batman” and “Spiderman,” as well as Cruella De Vil from “101 Dalmatians,” Mariah Carey’s “Hero” and “Zero to Hero” from “Hercules.”

Bloomington resident Daniel Barnett said he enjoyed seeing the students act out different songs and themes from his childhood. He had never seen the Singing Hoosiers before and said he was impressed with how the numbers had a lot of student input.

“It’s not very formal,” Barnett said of the concert. “It’s a lot of fun.”

The second medley, “Dancing Through The Years,” included “The Twist,” “The Chicken Dance,” “The Macarena” and “Single Ladies” by Beyonce.

During this medley, one student impersonated Elvis Presley with “Blue Suede Shoes.” A group of men dressed as women from the ’70s performed ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”

Bloomington High School South seniors Denise Dorotho and Mackenzie Motsinger came to watch some of their friends who were performing. Both said they enjoyed the show, particularly the medleys.

“It’s been really fun,” Dorotho said. “There’s so much to watch. It’s fun to bounce around and see how everyone’s performing.”

Throughout the night, the audience laughed and clapped along to the music. Zegree said audience enjoyment is key to a good show for the Singing Hoosiers.

“There’s nothing better for a group of performers than to have an enthusiastic audience,” he said. “Can we take you wherever we go?”

The ensemble will travel to Valparaiso April 6. In May, they tour Australia.

Senior member Andrew Wolverton said for this show, the group rehearsed every Monday through Friday for about an hour and 15 minutes each day. The Varsity Dancers, the students who dance at the front of the stage, rehearsed an additional seven to eight hours per week. Everyone practiced the medleys for another three hours each Sunday.

“We are busy, busy, busy,” Wolverton said. “But it’s so worth it in the end to have the final product.”

He said this show was the Singing Hoosiers’ best of the year.

Wolverton said he and his fellow seniors were emotional since it was the last show of the season.

“The curtain closed, and we just let it loose,” he said. “I’m going to miss my family here in Singing Hoosiers.”


© Indiana Daily Student 2014

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Remarkable recital features tenor, pianist on passionate journey

By Peter Jacobi


Less than two weeks ago, I saw Matthew Polenzani on stage in a Lyric Opera of Chicago performance of Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito,” portraying the title role of a noble Roman emperor.  His tenor voice easily suffused the vast space of the company’s Civic Opera House, both when it belted and melted.

Sunday afternoon, Matthew Polenzani took to the stage of the far more intimate Auer Hall to perform Schubert’s harrowing song cycle, “Die schone Mullerin.”  He was here courtesy of the Five Friends Master Class Series to give both a recital and a class in memory of tenor Garth Eppley, one of the five Jacobs School students who died in a tragic airplane crash on an April night in 2006.

The recital was remarkable, an artist inhaling the spirit of the cycle’s poetry and exhaling more than an hour of gorgeous music inspired by it, without pause, without score, but, fortunately, with the right collaborator, Professor of Practice Kevin Murphy, at the piano.

The story told in “Die schone Mullerin” (“The Beautiful Mill Girl”) originated in 25 poems written by Wilhelm Muller, a German romantic poet.  Schubert took 20 of the poems and set them to music meant to reflect the tale of a young wanderer who meets the miller’s daughter, falls in love with her, thinks she loves him, finds out — when a dashing hunter arrives — that she doesn’t, and commits suicide in the brook to which, all along, he has revealed his deepest secrets.

Schubert unleashed his gift for unabashed lyricism on this tale. For a baritone or tenor and for a pianist, the cycle affords an opportunity to shower an audience with sweeps and gushes of passion that crest as the disappointed suitor addresses the faded flowers that now must lie on his grave, and the miller relates that, “When a true heart dies of love, then lilies wither in every border,” and the brook welcomes the wanderer: “Rest you well, rest you well, close your eyes!  Wanderer, tired one, you are at home.”

Polenzani seemed to inhabit not only the words but the realm of that troubled soul. As he told the story in song, the performer took on the ardor and then the pain of the protagonist. What one heard and watched was immersion. The singing storyteller gave way to the victim of unrequited love. And since Polenzani was not on an operatic stage but standing next to a piano, the crossover was all in the voice, which gained a rainbow of colors reflecting shifts in emotion, from bright golden sunshine to fresh green in the glorious outdoors and, finally, to increasingly somber hues as the hero’s disillusion and despair sink in.

Pianist Kelly traveled sympathetically and empathetically all the way with Polenzani. Theirs was a unified voyage.  At the cycle’s conclusion, the audience rose and cheered them through four successive bows.


© Herald Times 2014

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Tenor Matthew Polenzani in recital March 30 in Auer Hall

PolenzaniOne of the most gifted and distinguished lyric tenors of his generation, Matthew
Polenzani will perform at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 30, in Auer Hall. He will be accompanied by Jacobs faculty member Kevin Murphy, piano.

As part of the school’s “Five Friends Master Class Series,” Polenzani will then present a master class at 8 p.m. on Monday, March 31, in Auer Hall.

The “Five Friends Master Class Series,” honoring the lives of five talented Jacobs School students—Chris Carducci, Garth Eppley, Georgina Joshi, Zachary Novak and Robert Samels—was established last year with a gift of $1 million from the Georgina Joshi Foundation Inc.

Polenzani’s events are in honor of Eppley.

About Polenzani

Polenzani has been praised for the artistic versatility and fresh lyricism that he brings to concert and operatic appearances on leading international stages.

This season, he returns to the Metropolitan Opera in Mozart’s Così fan tutte conducted by James Levine and in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Polenzani is Massenet’s Des Grieux in Manon at the Royal Opera Covent Garden, and he makes his role debut as Tito in La Clemenza di Tito at Lyric Opera of Chicago. The tenor makes his Deutsche Oper Berlin debut then returns to the Bayerische Staatsoper for I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Concert appearances include Britten’s Serenade for Tenor and Horn with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra and La Traviata with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel conducting.

To date, Polenzani has sung over 285 performances at the Met, many conducted by his musical mentor James Levine. Other American appearances include Werther, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, La Traviata, Roméo et Juliette, and Die Entführung aus dem Serail with the Lyric Opera of Chicago; Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Die Entführung, and Il Barbiere di Siviglia for San Francisco Opera; and Die Zauberflöte with James Conlon at Los Angeles Opera.

Following Polenzani’s debut with Opera Bordeaux in France in 1998, his appearances in other major European theaters include productions at the Paris Opera, Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Naples’ Teatro San Carlo, Rome Opera, Covent Garden, and Frankfurt Opera,

In recital, Polenzani has appeared in recital with Julius Drake at Wigmore Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Celebrity Series Boston at Jordan Hall, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society with pianist Richard Goode in a presentation of Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Vanished at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, and in recital at the Verbier Festival with pianist Roger Vignoles.

Polenzani was the recipient of the 2004 Richard Tucker Award and Metropolitan Opera’s 2008 Beverly Sills Artist Award and was the student of the late-Margaret Harshaw.

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