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Bienen School of Music to Present Three Operas

Michael M. Ehrman to stage works by Mozart, Heggie and McNally, and Gilbert and Sullivan

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Popular works by a prolific classical era composer, the Chicago-area premiere of a gritty contemporary opera about life, death row and social justice, and a light-hearted work by Gilbert and Sullivan, are among the varied opera productions to be staged during Northwestern University’s 2014-15 performance season.

Presented by the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, the upcoming events are part of Northwestern University Opera Theater, which begins its season on Nov. 21, with the fall presentation of “Mozart Magic: ‘The Impresario’ and Scenes from Great Mozart Operas.” The opera’s double bill will feature scenes from various Mozart operas, as well as a complete adaptation of Mozart’s “The Impresario,” which some music critics refer to as a “singspiel” -- a form of German light opera, which was popular in the 18th century and includes spoken dialogue.

This winter, the Bienen School of Music will stage Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s “Dead Man Walking,” from Feb. 20 to 28, a work based on the best-selling memoir by a New Orleans nun, Sister Helen Prejean, who served as the spiritual advisor to a condemned killer.

The spring 2015 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s light-hearted, two-act opera “Ruddigore” (“The Witch’s Curse”) is the first Gilbert and Sullivan production ever produced by the Northwestern opera program. Performances are scheduled from May 21 through May 23.

All of the following productions will be directed by Bienen School faculty member Michael M. Ehrman, artist-in-residence and director of opera. They will take place on the University’s Evanston campus at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St.

Fall 2014 

“Mozart Magic: ‘The Impresario’ and Scenes from Great Mozart Operas” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22. Mozart composed “The Impresario,” a comedic tale, after being invited by Emperor Joseph II of Vienna to participate in a public opera competition against composer Antonio Salieri. “The Impresario” tells the tale of two divas competing for a prime role while a producer struggles to manage their rivalry and cope with the stresses of show business. The artists each display their defining qualities and eventually come to the agreement that the audience should have the power of deciding who should be hired for the prime role. In this adaptation, titled “The (Opera) Producers, or Waiting for Geltman,” the action takes place in 1948 Manhattan. Northwestern’s updated zany comedy also has been expanded to include a cast of 18 characters rather than the usual five. “The Impresario” will be performed in English and additional scenes of beloved Mozart operas, including “Idomeneo,” “Don Giovanni,” “Die Zauberflöte” and “Le nozze di Figaro,” will be performed in their original languages with supertitles (a caption projected on screen above the stage in an opera, translating the text being sung). Tickets are $12 for the general public and $6 for students with valid IDs. 

Winter 2015 

The fully-staged Chicago-area premiere of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s “Dead Man Walking” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20; 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26; and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28. Based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, the opera tells the story of a nun’s journey as a spiritual advisor to Joseph De Rocher, a convicted murderer on death row at Louisiana’s Angola State Prison. The performance contains adult situations, graphic violence and explicit language. Conductor Michael Sakir and chorus master Donald Nally will direct the University Chorale and Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra. Tickets are $18 for the general public and $8 for students with valid IDs.

Spring 2015

The spring opera, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Ruddigore” (“The Witch’s Curse”), will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 21; 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 22; and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 23. In this parody of a stock melodrama, a curse on the Murgatroyd line decrees that every baronet (gentleman) of Ruddigore must commit a daily crime or succumb to an agonizing death. When the latest baronet seeks the hand of the most eligible bachelorette in the village, wicked deeds, multiple betrothals and visits from ancestral ghosts ensue. Robert G. Hasty will conduct the orchestra. Tickets are $18 for the general public and $8 for students with valid IDs.

Michael M. Ehrman

Ehrman has extensive experience as both an opera director and educator. Among his credits are critically acclaimed productions at the Houston Grand Opera, Greater Miami Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Minnesota Opera, Chautauqua Opera and Chicago Opera Theater. Ehrman has staged more than 20 productions for Central City Opera, including the 50th anniversary production of the Ballad of Baby Doe” and the world premiere of Henry Mollicone’s Gabriel’s Daughter,” as well as Noye’s Fludde” by Benjamin Britten for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Most recently, he staged his 19th production of Puccini's \"La bohème\" for the National Symphony of the Dominican Republic in Santo Domingo. In summer 2015, Ehrman continues his new position as director of the prestigious Young Artist Program at Central City in Colorado.

Donald Nally

Nally, Bienen School professor of conducting and ensembles, is conductor of The Crossing, the award-winning professional chamber choir in Philadelphia focused on new music. He also is chorus master of The Chicago Bach Project, an annual performance of the Bach masterworks. Nally has served in many prestigious international positions: as chorus master at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Welsh National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and for many seasons at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Under his direction, the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia won the 2002 Margaret Hillis National Award for Excellence in Choral Music.

For more information, call the Bienen School of Music Concert Management Office at 847-491-5441 or visit To order tickets by phone, call the Ticket Office at 847-467-4000.

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