John Stephens, Kansas University music professor, says the KU opera division is in good shape. It has a new performance space, new faculty members and a new season. And its goal of providing high-quality training and performance opportunities for its students is firmly intact.
"We're moving in a direction we like, and we will maintain our philosophy to provide high-quality performances," Stephens said. "We try to select a repertoire that emphasizes the various aspects of the students' talent. The day of one getting by on just a pretty voice are gone."
Beginning this fall, KU Opera will be staging some of its productions in the Black Box Theatre in the new Murphy Hall addition. The theater seats about 100 people and contains a dressing room, wardrobe area, an office and a set construction and stage area.
The first offering in KU Opera's season a double bill of "Mahagonny Songspiel" by Kurt Weill and "Trouble in Tahiti" by Leonard Bernstein will take place in November in the new theater. Both are one-act operas about people looking for a better life.
Mark Ferrell, KU associate professor of music, said Weill wrote three versions of "Mahagonny." The version being performed by KU Opera was written in German, except for two songs written in English.
"This version is for singers who are required to do acting with their voices," Ferrell said, adding that Bill Farlow, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, will direct the show.
"Trouble in Tahiti" is a 40-minute opera about people who move from the city into the suburbs in search of an ideal life and realize the same problems occur at both places. The opera has a jazz trio akin to a Greek chorus.
In January, KU Opera will present Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" in Swarthout Recital Hall in Murphy Hall. Stephens will direct.
"It's about pirates with swords and girls with frilly dresses," Ferrell said. "It's with an orchestral reduction with acoustic and electric instrumentation via the Joseph Papp production with Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith."
March will usher in Handel's "Acis and Galatea," a baroque opera based on a mythological story. A director has not been chosen, and it is tentatively slated for the Black Box Theatre.
Stephens said KU has 45 undergraduate and 20 graduate voice majors, with most of them wanting to sing opera. In the fall, the voice faculty will be back to full-strength. New faculty members are:
l Joyce Castle, mezzo-soprano, who received her bachelor's degree in theater and voice from KU and her master's degree at the Eastman School of Music. She has performed with the Metropolitan Opera Company, New York City Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera and other companies throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.
l Pamela Hinchman, soprano, who earned a bachelor's degree in music from the Cleveland Institute of Music and did postgraduate work at the Curtis Institute of Music. She has performed at the Florida Grand Opera and Spoleto Festival and with the National Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.
l Genaro Mendez, tenor, who received his doctorate degree in June from the University of Oregon, where he was a graduate teaching fellow. He has a master's degree from the University of Illinois and is an experienced performer.
"We expect these three to draw top-notch talent to our school," Stephens said.