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Alain Barker
IU Jacobs School of Music

Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2009

IU Opera Theater set to present collegiate premiere of 'The Light in the Piazza'

Tony Award-winner musical directed by original Broadway conductor

July 14, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana University Opera Theater's collegiate premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical The Light in the Piazza (by Adam Guettel) will be guest conducted by Broadway veteran Dan Riddle, the associate conductor of the original hit Broadway show.

Dan Riddle at rehearsal with IU Opera Theater

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Stage direction will be provided by Jacobs School of Music Professor Vincent Liotta, with sets and costumes designed by Jacobs Professor C. David Higgins.

Tickets are on sale now at Bloomington's Musical Arts Center for the July 31 and Aug. 1, 7 and 8 performances.

"I am honored and delighted to be a part of this production," said Riddle. "I absolutely love Adam Guettel's music; his work speaks to me in a very personal and emotional way. I think Piazza is a masterpiece and, by far, the most rewarding thing I ever did in my Broadway career. Two of the main characters are college aged; I think it's a perfect piece for a university to produce. I spent the first week of rehearsals working with the cast, and they are marvelous and gifted beyond their years. I really believe IU's version will rival most of the professional productions that preceded it."

The work premiered in Seattle in 2003 and opened on Broadway in April 2005 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center, closing in July 2006. It won six Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, and was nominated for several others.

"I think the reason Adam's music reaches me on such a core level is his gift for writing gorgeous, singable melodies," explained Riddle. "His grandfather, Richard Rodgers, obviously passed down some of his own genetic code in that department, though Adam's harmonies are much more complex.

"I asked Adam once what came first -- the music or the lyrics," Riddle continued. "Richard Rodgers' answer to that question was 'the contract.' Adam's answer was very simple, 'I just start with a feeling.' Every song in Piazza seems to be cut from whole cloth -- the lyrics, the melody, the harmonies, the accompaniment all serve the moment in the story, the feeling, and the cumulative effect is deeply moving."

Jacobs School of Music Professor Vincent Liotta (left) provides stage direction.

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Based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer, The Light in the Piazza takes place in Italy in the summer of 1953. Margaret Johnson, the wife of an American businessman, is touring the Tuscan countryside with her daughter, Clara. A chance meeting results in romance between Clara and Fabrizio, a young Florentine.

The story explores Margaret's doubts and yearnings about love, not only for her daughter, but for herself, in addition to her mother's guilt. As The Light in the Piazza unfolds, a secret is revealed, and Margaret is forced to reconsider not only Clara's future, but her own hopes as well.

"I expressed a real interest in being involved with the Broadway piece, even as nothing more than a rehearsal pianist," said Riddle. "To my surprise, they auditioned pianist/associate conductors for the show, which is very unusual on Broadway. When I played, Adam proceeded to completely pick apart every note. I walked out of there quite sure I had no chance of getting the job. Many days later, I received the offer and was overjoyed."

When Riddle's friend and colleague Dale Rieling (Broadway conductor and music director) heard the Jacobs School was staging The Light in the Piazza, he suggested Riddle for the Bloomington production. Rieling previously spent time at Jacobs, conducting She Loves Me and The Secret Garden.

"I love working with the extremely talented kids here at IU, for all the same reasons I love working at Penn State," Riddle concluded. "They bring freshness and energy to everything they do, and it is a blast to watch them grow through the rehearsal process."

Riddle began his Broadway career in 1996 as assistant conductor of Les Miserables, and then continued on the famed theater district with Titanic, A Class Act, Oklahoma, Into the Woods, Mamma Mia, Bombay Dreams and Piazza. He became music director of the Musical Theater Department of Penn State University in 2005, where he has conducted Cabaret, The Boyfriend, Urinetown, Parade, 1776, Baby, Big River, Company, Camelot and The Wiz.

Born and raised in Dallas, Riddle received his bachelor's and master's degrees from The Juilliard School and studied conducting and piano on a Fulbright grant in Vienna, Austria. He has appeared as a concert soloist with the orchestras of Dallas, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Monte Carlo and Cairo, Egypt, among others. He has recently been a guest conductor for the Youngstown and Hartford Symphony Orchestras.