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Visiting professionals help IU Opera Theater stage its first production of 'Xerxes'

WHAT: "Xerxes" by George Frideric Handel
WHEN: 8 p.m. Feb. 1, 2, 8 and 9
WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave.
TICKETS: Purchase tickets at the Musical Arts Center box office from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, by phone at 812-855-7433 or online at music.indiana.edu/opera. A discounted price is available for all students.
VIDEO STREAMING: Feb. 1 and 2 only. Featuring live blogging by musicology students.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 25, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Opera Theater will unveil its first production of Handel's comedic "Xerxes" at 8 p.m. Feb. 1, 2, 8 and 9 in the Musical Arts Center, bringing the production company housed in the IU Jacobs School of Music one step closer to its mission of producing a Handel opera every four years.

Xerxes
IU Opera Theater will offer its first production of Handel's "Xerxes" in February. The cast includes Jacobs School of Music vocal student Erica Schoelkopf, left, as Xerxes and second-year master's student Mathilda Edge as Romilda.
Print-Quality Photo

The new production also features artistic direction from well-known figures in the opera world, exemplifying IU Opera Theater's new goal of giving IU students more practical experience by working alongside visiting professionals, a shift that follows the retirement of several faculty members. Visiting artists for "Xerxes" include stage director Tom Diamond, music director Gary Thor Wedow, set and costume designer Robert Perdziola, vocal coach Eiddwen Harrhy and dramaturg Cori Ellison.

"They form this dynamic, professional, scholarly group here, giving our students the chance to learn from them, make connections and really find out what it takes to put a top-notch production together," said Tim Stebbins, Music Arts Center executive director of production. "They're all widely recognized experts in their own right, and bringing them here to work on this production is exactly the kind of thing we were looking to do."

Diamond brings a long resume of helming opera, theater and film works to his inaugural direction of the Handel masterwork.

"This is my first time directing 'Xerxes,' although I have directed a lot of Handel and other Baroque operas," Diamond said. "What excites me most about this opera, aside from the wonderful music by one of the great operatic geniuses, is the complexity, cleverness and psychological truths of the story. Even though the work is about a real historical figure and events, the opera deals more with humanity than history. At the end of the day, it is about people who love desperately and obsessively, and ache from their inability to find any satisfaction."

"What Handel is so fantastic at doing is understanding the inner psychological life of the characters," said Wedow, a Jacobs alumnus who has established a reputation for historically informed performances with opera companies, festivals and choral organizations. "The orchestra is really another character in the opera. This production is going to be one of the most opulent and beautiful that Indiana University has ever seen."

Award-winning set and costume designer Perdziola is working with IU Opera Theater for the first time.

"The set for 'Xerxes' is styled with pieces of selective realism that exist in a black space," he said. "These pieces evoke architectural classicism, nature and stately bits of interior. The realism is meant to be enough to anchor the piece when needed to imperial surroundings, abundant garden or woods and a temple. For clothing, my intention was to evoke a pre-Raphaelite line with the women and middle-19th-century soldiers for the men."

The project marks the fifth collaboration for Diamond and Wedow, including the successful 2009 IU Opera production of Handel's "Giulio Cesare."

Even though the piece is written in the Baroque era, it is about an ancient, classical figure. Xerxes was the emperor of Persia circa 480 BC and the first to merge the Eastern and Western worlds, via his armada of ships creating a "bridge." But while based on fact, this production will be more fairytale than history lesson, according to Diamond.

"Handel was interested in human behavior in all its diversity," Diamond said. "I truly believe he was plugged into something bigger than all of us."

The Feb. 1 and 2 performances of "Xerxes" will be live-streamed via the IU Music Live site.

A free public discussion about the opera will be presented at noon Friday, Feb. 1, in Ford-Crawford Hall. Ellison will lead Diamond, Wedow and Harrhy, professor of vocal studies at the Royal College of Music in London, through an in-depth overview of the creation of IU Opera's latest production.

The project is underwritten by the Georgina Joshi Fund -- administered by The Georgina Joshi Foundation Inc. and the Indiana University Foundation -- which was established to encourage and support the student performance of Handel's operas and oratorios. It is the goal of The Georgina Joshi Foundation Inc. that Jacobs School of Music students be able to study and perform major works of Handel every year.