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Puccini one-act operas open Feb. 4 at Musical Arts Center; recent Jacobs School alumnus to conduct

WHAT: Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giovacchino Forzano
WHEN: Feb. 4, 5 and 11, 12 at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave., IU Bloomington campus.
TICKETS: Purchase tickets at the Musical Arts Center box office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. or phone 812-855-7433. To order tickets through Ticketmaster, phone 1-800-745-3000, or purchase online at http://www.ticketmaster.com/venue/41149/. An added discounted price, through the MAC Box Office, is available for all students who wish to attend. Bursar Billing: The MAC Box Office will now be able to handle on-site bursar billing for students who plan to attend the opera, ballet or any other ticketed performance at the Musical Arts Center. Please note: tickets billed to your bursar account must be purchased by 5:30 p.m. on the day of performance.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 24, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The mood will transition from tragic beauty to lighthearted farce at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music's presentation of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, two one-act operas by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924).

Angelica-Schicchi
Puccini's "Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi" will be presented at the Musical Arts Center, opening Feb. 4, 2011.
Print-Quality Photo

Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi open Feb. 4 at the Musical Arts Center with additional performances Feb. 5 and Feb. 11-12, all at 8 p.m.

The two operas are the second and third in a trio of one-act operas known as The Triptych, which depict contrasting paths to heaven and hell. The trilogy debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918.

Set in a 17th-century convent, Suor Angelica is a tale of loss and repentance and was Puccini's favorite of these three works. The popular Gianni Schicchi, the composer's only farce, is set in 13th-century Florence, Italy, and is a tale of greed and conniving based upon Dante's Divine Comedy.

The operas will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. Stage direction is by James Marvel with set and costume design by Jacobs School of Music Professor C. David Higgins.

Conducting is Jacobs School alumnus Andrew Altenbach, principal conductor of the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra.

"Bloomington is a very special place for me. This is the first time I'm coming back to work with a Jacobs opera," Altenbach said.

While pursuing his doctoral degree at Jacobs from 2003 to 2006, he studied with Professor David Effron, chair of the Jacobs Department of Orchestral Conducting. "David was very much like a father to me," Altenbach said.

Initially a pianist, Altenbach worked his way through graduate school by playing piano in the opera department, a sometimes grueling gig that provided him with a "gigantic set of skills" that eventually led to a career in conducting. "Working with David Effron turned out to be the best decision of my artistic career," he said.

The Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi creative team came together in Bloomington during the first week of January for what will end up being six weeks of music, staging and dress rehearsals that culminate with four evening performances.

Altenbach said both operas deal with universal raw emotions, though in very different ways. In Angelica, those emotions surround issues of parentage, affection for a child and the tragic loss of a child.

"In Schicchi, it's the mean-but-rich family member who died and everyone's waiting around to see who gets the money. Most of us know someone who has experienced that," Altenbach said. "In one night, you rarely get to see a true tragedy as well as a poignant comedy."

Marvel returns to IU to stage direct his second Jacobs opera (last year's Lucia di Lammermoor was his first at IU). An in-demand director who will direct Cavalli's Eliogabalo at Lincoln Center next month for the Gotham Chamber Opera, Marvel has been named "Stage Director of the Year" by Classical Singer Magazine and has directed more than 80 productions all over the world since his directorial debut in 1996.

Marvel is nevertheless impressed by the pool of talent in the Jacobs School. "The cast of both shows is really outstanding," he said. "The amount of physical comedy in Schicchi requires a huge level of sophistication, and they're pulling it off really seamlessly. I'm really quite pleased."

He recently directed Angelica in Texas and said the artistic choices being made for IU's production far exceed that production. "My goal as a director is to be aware of all of the productions out there that have ever been done and make sure mine is better," Marvel said. "I need to be able to watch 10 other productions and say none of them can beat mine. If I can't say that, I couldn't direct it."

This is his first-ever production of Schicchi and, so far, Marvel wouldn't change a thing. Extra-observant viewers will note Marvel subtly poking fun at his own staging from the Suor Angelica portion of the program during the Gianni Schicchi segment.

"We did things with an enormous amount of care and sensitivity in Suor Angelica that became humorous in Schicchi," Marvel said. "I think of Schicchi as a farce, and it will be that -- it will be the funniest direction I've ever seen. Making fun of my own staging is a new experience as a director, but it's important not to take yourself too seriously and to be able to laugh at yourself."

Altenbach said the Puccini double bill is perfect for audiences new to opera because of the range of subject matter and neatly packaged time frame. "People who don't want to deal with heavy emotional material for two and a half hours can get the best of both worlds, and each one clocks in under 60 minutes. It's almost the same length as an IU basketball game -- maybe an extra five minutes. It's like an IU basketball game with TV timeouts."

With tiny pockets of time to revel in his brief return to Bloomington, where Altenbach is revisiting favorite grad school hangouts (among them the Bakehouse and the Irish Lion), he is thrilled to be here to conduct works by Puccini.

"Puccini is an equal master at writing for the orchestra as well as the voice," Altenbach said. "It's a really beautiful combination."