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Alain Barker
IU Jacobs School of Music

Linda Cajigas
IU Jacobs School of Music

Last modified: Thursday, February 28, 2008

IU Opera and Ballet Theater celebrates 60th anniversary with productions old and new

Feb. 28, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Familiar favorites combine with forays into fantasy in the 60th Indiana University Opera and Ballet Theater season. The 2008-2009 lineup includes beloved standards like Verdi's La Traviata, Giulio Cesare by Handel and The Nutcracker ballet, in addition to fairy-tale fun in Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges and Massenet's Le Cendrillon, the Cinderella story interpreted in the French operatic style.

Ballet Theater productions will range from the much sought-after choreography of contemporary dance legend Twyla Tharp and ballet legend George Balanchine in "Ballets of Our Time" to a world premiere ballet by contemporary choreographer Matthew Neenan in "Variations on a Russian Theme." A piece by New York-based choreographer David Parsons will also appear in the fall production, and acclaimed dancer Cynthia Gregory will team up once again with IU Ballet Theater director Michael Vernon to choreograph a new and concise version of Swan Lake, to be performed in spring as part of "Variations on a Russian Theme."

La Traviata, Guiseppe Verdi's favorite among his operas, kicks off the season. A new production features sets by resident designer and IU Professor David Higgins. Taking place in 18th-century Paris, the opera tells the true-life story of a scandalous affair between a glamorous courtesan and her middle-class lover.

"The production will be stunningly beautiful," Higgins said. "It is going to be very elegant and firmly rooted in the traditional operatic style, but rather than using costumes from the period, we have costumes that echo the silhouette of the period, with more of a haute couture look. There will be lots of reflective surfaces, and I can't tell you how many chandeliers."

"Guilio Cesare"

"Giulio Cesare"

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The brilliant comic romp The Merry Wives of Windsor is faithful to Shakespeare's story while set to fabulous music. The exploits of Sir John Falstaff, the middle-aged knight, continue as he (deservedly) becomes the victim of a series of pranks and swears never again to indulge in amorous pursuits.

Another favorite, Giulio Cesare, will commemorate the 250th anniversary of the death of composer George Frideric Handel. One of his most popular operas, Cesare captures the intrigue and rivalries of the Roman court. Set in Egypt in 48 B.C., the opera features some of the most famous characters of all time: Caesar, Cleopatra, Pompey and Sextus. IU alum Gary Thor Wedow, a specialist in early music, conducts this masterpiece.

An IU tradition will re-emerge with Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella, a production that has been described alternately as musical theater, opera and operetta. This 1920s love story unfolds in Napa Valley, Calif., between a waitress and an Italian immigrant. In the early days of IU Opera Theater, voice faculty member Ralph Appleman performed the role of the enamored suitor, Tony Esposito. This year, faculty member and renowned baritone Timothy Noble will play the role, creating a multigenerational legacy befitting the 60th anniversary of the Opera Theater. Notably, the original role of Tony, on Broadway, was played by former IU faculty member Giorgio Tozzi.

This year's fantasy theme will begin with Sergei Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges. A lighthearted and amusing tale, this opera is a good introduction for younger audiences. It features a cast of mythical characters, including a gloomy prince, a wicked sorceress and three oranges that turn out to be three beautiful princesses. The large cast also offers many opportunities for opera goers to discover the emerging talent among student singers.

Next, Le Cendrillon brings the familiar fairy tale to life with new set designs by David Higgins. This Cinderella story comes closest to the original in contrast to the operatic interpretations by Rossini and Prokofiev.

"We'll have the carriage and the glass slipper," Higgins said. "The transformation scene will be very exciting." IU Opera & Ballet Theater Executive Administrator Maria Levy suggested this opera as an ideal introduction for children because of the familiar story and because "it has a happy ending. Nobody dies, which is unusual for opera." In the French tradition, Cendrillon will also incorporate three formal ballet scenes featuring dancers from the IU Ballet department.

Just as ballet students will lend their skills to Opera Theater this season, IU choral department singers will collaborate for the first piece in "Ballets of Our Time." Sweet Fields, choreographed by Twyla Tharp, is set to the music of William Billings, which will be sung a cappella by student singers.

The program will also feature The Four Temperaments, with choreography by George Balanchine set to music by Paul Hindemith, and Caught, a piece by New York-based choreographer David Parsons.

The spring ballet, "Variations on a Russian Theme," opens with a world premiere by Pennsylvania-based choreographer Matthew Neenan. The program also features a new telling of the time-honored story of Swan Lake.

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Indiana University Opera and Ballet Theater 2008-2009 Season

IU Opera Theater 2008-2009 Season

La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi
(Sung in Italian with English supertitles)
Sept. 26-27, Oct. 3-4, 2008
Stage Director: Tito Capobianco
Conductor: David Effron
Set Designer: C. David Higgins

The Merry Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai
(Dialogue in English and arias in German with English supertitles)
Oct. 24-25 and 31, Nov. 1, 2008
Stage Director: Vincent Liotta
Conductor: David Effron
Set Designer: Robert O'Hearn

Love for Three Oranges by Sergei Prokofiev
(Sung in English with English supertitles)
Nov. 14-15, 21-22, 2008
Stage Director: Nicholas Muni
Conductor: Robert Wood
Set Designer: C. David Higgins

Le Cendrillon by Jules Massenet
(Sung in French with English supertitles)
Feb. 6-7, 13-14, 2009
Stage Director: Chuck Hudson
Conductor: Ronald Zollman
Set Designer: C. David Higgins

Giulio Cesare by George Frideric Handel
(Sung in Italian with English supertitles)
Feb. 27-28, March 6-7, 2009
Stage Director: Stefano Vizioli
Conductor: Gary Thor Wedow
Set Designer: Robert O'Hearn

The Most Happy Fella by Frank Loesser
(Sung in English with English supertitles)
April 10-11, 17-18, 2009
Stage Director: Vincent Liotta
Conductor: Dale Rieling
Set Designer: William Forrester

IU Ballet Theater 2008-2009 Season

Ballets of Our Time
Fall Ballet
Oct. 10-11, 2008, at 8 p.m.
Sweet Fields: Composer: William Billings (The Madrigals). Choreographer: Twyla Tharp. In cooperation with the IU Choral Department.
Four Temperaments: Composer: Paul Hindemith (Piano Concerto). Choreographer: George Balanchine.
Caught: Choreographer: David Parsons.

The Nutcracker by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Dec. 5-6, 2008, at 8 p.m.; Dec. 6-7, 2008, at 2 p.m.
Choreography by Michael Vernon.

Variations on a Russian Theme
Spring Ballet
March 27-28, 2009, at 8 p.m.
Swan Lake Excerpts: Composer: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Staging: Cynthia Gregory and Michael Vernon.
World Premiere Ballet: Choreographer: Matthew Neenan.