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Chicago Premiere of 'The Grapes of Wrath' Opera at Northwestern

Guest baritone Robert Orth to reprise his role in Feb. 22 to March 2 production

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The Chicago-area premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s opera “The Grapes of Wrath” this winter, and performances of Claudio Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea” (“The Coronation of Poppea”) this spring, will conclude Northwestern University’s 2012-13 opera season.

Presented by the University’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, both will be staged at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. Both operas are directed by Michael Ehrman, artist-in-residence and director of opera for the Bienen School.


• “The Grapes of Wrath” will be performed in English at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22; 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28; and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2. Tickets are $18 for the general public and $8 for students.

Based on John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” follows the story of the Joad family as they travel from a Dust Bowl-ravaged Oklahoma to California in search of a better life. First commissioned and performed in 2007 by the Minnesota Opera, the work made its revised concert version premiere in New York at Carnegie Hall in a 2010 performance featuring The Collegiate Chorale with narration by Jane Fonda.

Ricky Ian Gordon’s score, influenced by American popular music of the 1920s and 1930s, with libretto by Tony Award nominee Michael Korie, brings new life to this tale of hope in the face of despair. Baritone Robert Orth, who performed as Uncle John in the opera’s 2007 Minnesota premiere, will reprise his role in the Northwestern production, featuring a cast of approximately 60 Bienen School students. Orth is a leading vocalist with major opera companies including those in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. 

Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra director Hal France, a specialist in contemporary American repertoire and a Bienen School of Music alumnus, will be music director. Set designer Collette Pollard, whose many credits include sets for Writers’ Theatre, Drury Lane Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre and the Goodman Theatre, is a Northwestern University alumna.


• Monteverdi’s Baroque opera, “L’incoronazione di Poppea” (“The Coronation of Poppea”), features a libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello. Poppea, the mistress of Emperor Nerone, is determined to ascend the throne -- whatever the costs. This story of love, deception, murder and betrayal is as relevant today as in Monteverdi’s time. Featuring Stephen Alltop, director of music for Northwestern’s Alice Millar Chapel, as music director, performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 24 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 25. The opera will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. Tickets are $15 for the general public and $6 for students. 


Bienen School faculty member Michael Ehrman has directed operas at the Houston Grand Opera, Greater Miami Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Minnesota Opera, Chautauqua Opera and Chicago Opera Theater as well as a concert performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at Ravinia in August 2012. He also has directed eight opera productions at Indiana University.


For more information, call the Pick-Staiger Concert Office at (847) 491-5441 or visit To order tickets call the Pick-Staiger Ticket Office at (847) 467-4000 or visit For information regarding construction, visit

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