© 2020 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
IPR Music

IPR’s Opera In October Presents Opera Classics

Duane Tinkey
Des Moines Metro Opera
The cast of the DMMO's 2017 production of A Little Night Music in Act II

As election hype ramps up and leaves fall, IPR’s Opera in October series explores IPR’s amazing treasure trove of performances produced and recorded before the COVID-19 virus squelched, but not silenced, Iowa’s opera venues.

As election hype ramps up and leaves fall, IPR’s Opera in October series explores IPR’s amazing treasure trove of performances produced and recorded before the COVID-19 virus squelched, but not silenced, Iowa’s opera venues.

Over the last ­­­­­­­­­­eight years, IPR’s Opera in October showcased the Des Moines Metro Opera Festival’s three mainstage productions and one mainstage performance of the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre. Opera in October also presented a select opera production from a rotation of one of Iowa’s three regent universities, Luther College or Simpson College. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, IPR’s 2020 Opera in October series has hand-pick four not-to-be-forgotten performances for broadcast.

DMMO’s Orphée et Eurydice - Saturday, October 3 and Sunday, October 4

Four years ago, the Des Moines Metro Opera staged Gluck’s eloquent and historically important baroque masterpiece, Orphée et Eurydice. Using the 19th-century French adaptation created by Hector Berlioz for Pauline Viardot, this production celebrated the DMMO’s initial venture into early music. The three-act opera is centered around the legendary tale of Orpheus as he descends into the underworld to retrieve his beloved wife. Touted as one of Gluck’s most famous efforts, the work transformed opera seria into a straightforward and elegant approach to music and drama.

The DMMO’s general and artistic director, Michael Egel said, “Based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, countless musical moments in Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice rank among the most powerful, familiar and beautiful in all of opera, including “The Dance of the Blessed Spirits” and “Che farò senza Euridice.”

Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano assumed the pants role of Orphée. Lyric soprano Susannah Biller appeared as Orphée’s wife, Eurydice. The mischievous and energetic Amour was presented by soprano Cree Carrico. Gary Thor Wedow conducted the Des Moines Metro Opera Festival Orchestra, Chas Rader-Shieber served as stage director, and the chorus of DMMO apprentice artists were directed by Lisa Hasson. The Des Moines Metro Opera’s production of Orphée et Eurydice is a musical gem not to be missed.

DMMO’s A Little Night Music - Saturday, October 10 and Sunday, October 11

During their 45th season the Des Moines Metro Opera explored a work that spans the operatic stage and the world of Broadway. Egel said, “Stephen Sondheim’s tour de force musical comedy, A Little Night Music, whisks us away for a weekend in the country where old flames rekindle and new loves ignite.” He went on to add: “The hit ‘Send in the Clowns' and elegant waltzes drive this bittersweet comedy—the winner of six Tony awards including best musical.”

The work, founded on Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night,” showcased actress Desiree Armfeldt, portrayed by soprano Kelly Kaduce, with the esteemed mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle appearing as the revered Madame Armfeldt. Baritone Troy Cook sang the role of Fredrik Egerman. His fickle and flighty wife Anne is portrayed by soprano Lauren Snouffer. Baritone Lee Gregory performed the unfaithful and duplicitous Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Count Malcolm prized truthfulness, but overtly flaunted his indiscretions with Desiree and others to his boozy and adoring wife. Countess Charlotte Malcom is presented by mezzo-soprano Elise Quagliata. Tenor Quinn Bernegger played the seminary student Henrik Egerman, who is torn between his ardent desire for the family maid and his buried affections for his step-mother. The naughty and spicy maid Petra is assumed by Urbandale native, mezzo-soprano Melanie Long. Desiree’s beautiful daughter is portrayed by West Des Moines student and mezzo soprano Aviana Gedler.

Five DMMO apprentice artists formed the Liebeslieder Quintet. The ensemble included sopranos Chelsea Miller as Mrs. Nordstrom and Grace Kahl as Mrs. Anderssen, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Schoenhofer as Mrs. Segstrom, tenor Christian Sanders as Mr. Erlanson, and baritone Charles Eaton as Mr. Lindquist. Maestro Eric Melear conducted the DMMO Festival Orchestra and Matthew Ozawa served as Stage Director.

DMMO’s The Abduction from the Seraglio - Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18

The Des Moines Metro Opera unearthed every percussion instrument they could find to create a Turkish palace and harem setting for Mozart’s sparkling three-act singspiel, The Abduction from the Seraglio. Egel stated that: “Set against the exotic backdrop of the Ottoman Empire, Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio features Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman, who has been separated from the woman he loves by pirates. This humorous tale brilliantly plays on timeless human foibles. Mozart lavished some of his finest music on the delightful story and libretto. Maestro Dean Williamson conducted the DMMO Festival Orchestra and Chas Rader-Shieber served as stage director.”

The DMMO’s debut cast included four rising opera stars. Tenor Ben Bliss portrayed the hero, Belmonte. Coloratura soprano Amanda Woodbury sang the role of the kidnapped heroine and fiancée, Konstanze. Soprano Ashley Emerson depicted Konstanze’s maid, Blonde. Tenor Jonathan Blalock played Belmonte’s man-servant Pedrillo. Bass Matt Boehler appeared as the Pasha’s heavyweight commander Osmin. The Pasha Selim’s speaking role was performed by David Adam Moore.

CROT’s Salome - Saturday, October 24 and Sunday, October 25

In 2010 the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s founder, music director and conductor, Dr. Daniel Kleinknecht decided to produce Richard Strauss’s grizzly one-act-opera, Salome. A French play written by Oscar Wilde, Strauss’s work taps into the well-known tale of the bloodthirsty and lascivious Salome and her lewd infatuation with John the Baptist. When first performed in 1905, Strauss’s opera, along with its scandalous and sensual “Dance of the Seven Veils” was banned. The opera disgusted and shocked audiences. Today Salome is considered part of the mainstream opera repertoire.

Kleinknecht stated: “When the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre produced Salome the community was in another extraordinary time. We had just had the floods of 2008 and didn't have a place to perform in Cedar Rapids. So we moved our productions to Cedar Falls to the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center. This production was made into a video, produced by Iowa Public Television by a grant from the now-defunct Iowa Film Commission. This production was updated to a modern undisclosed place in the arid Middle East and was staged by Gregory Keller from the Metropolitan Opera. The cast had some spectacular singers.”

Soprano Amy Johnson assumed the title role, portraying Herod’s neurotic step-daughter. Originally born in Chariton, Johnson received her bachelor’s from Grinnell and her master's from the Manhattan School of Music. Her powerful voice flourishes on challenging roles in major US opera houses. Appearing as Salome’s mother and Herod’s wife and sister-in-law, Herodias, was mezzo-soprano and Sigourney native, Katharine Goeldner. Goeldner, a University of Iowa grad, received her Magister Diploma in German Lieder from the Mozarteum University of Salzburg. Goeldner’s international career boasts starring parts in top opera houses around the world, including multitudes of leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera and singing large symphonic works and oratorios with the foremost conductors and symphonies across the globe.

New York City native, tenor Jeffrey Dowd, attended Coe and Yale and received his master's from Indiana University. Dowd, with over 119 opera roles in his repertoire, has performed in major opera houses and concert halls around the world. In the CROT’s production of Salome, Dowd assumed the role of King Herod, who lusts after his step-daughter Salome. Internationally acclaimed bass-baritone Mark Schnaible, a native of Moville, Iowa and a graduate and former faculty member at Morningside College, assumed the ill-fated role of Johanaan, or John the Baptist.

Rochester native, Luther grad, and Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music master's alumnus, tenor Andrew Stenson sang the part of the First Jew. Other Midwesterners included UNI’s Instructor of Applied Voice, tenor Jeffrey Brick, UI’s Vocal Professor baritone John Muriello, bass-baritone Stephen Fish of Cedar Falls, and Quad City mezzo-soprano Kelly Hill.

IPR’s Opera in October broadcasts are available online at iowapublicradio.org or on your favorite IPR classical radio station Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Sunday afternoons at 4 pm. Join the DMMO, the CROT, and Iowa Public Radio Classical for a rare, perhaps last-time chance to hear these amazing operatic performances produced and recorded in Iowa. If you tune into Opera in October, let us know what you think at artsnews@iowapublicradio.org.