Nov. 24, 1993
Vol. 13, No. 7

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    University's Pocket Opera Company to debut Dec. 8

    The new Pocket Opera Company of the University of Chicago will present its debut production from Wednesday, Dec. 8, through Saturday, Dec. 11, at Court Theatre. The company will perform the world premiere of "Let's Get This Show on the Road: An Alternative Version of Genesis," a new opera by John Eaton, Professor in Music. The company -- which includes the New York New Music Ensemble and four singers and will use the Eaton-Moog Multiple-Touch-Sensitive Keyboard synthesizer -- also will present the Chicago stage premiere of Eaton's "Peer Gynt."

    The production, the first of the Contemporary Chamber Players' 30th-anniversary season, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8, and Thursday, Dec. 9; at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10; and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11. Tickets for the Wednesday preview performance are $14, $5 for students; tickets for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are $18, $8 for students. For tickets, call 702-3427.

    The Pocket Opera Company of the University of Chicago grew out of an idea Eaton contemplated for years for a new kind of opera company -- one that would include a small group of instrumentalists who would also take part in the stage action, a vocal quartet trained in traditional operatic singing and familiar with contemporary vernacular, and the use of a full range of electronic music.

    Two events on campus in the spring of 1992 proved to be a stimulus to the realization of Eaton's idea: the introduction in concert of the Eaton-Moog Multiple-Touch-Sensitive Keyboard, developed on Eaton's suggestion by noted synthesizer designer Robert Moog, and successful concert performances of Eaton's "Peer Gynt" by the New York New Music Ensemble.

    Eaton hopes to use the Pocket Opera Company to contribute to the development of nontraditional audiences for contemporary music, especially among youth with limited access to cultural programming, through outreach to schools and community organizations. He also plans to explore new possibilities in lighting and sound, to commission new works written especially for the company and to design productions that can be performed easily in nontraditional spaces.

    "The Pocket Opera Company of the University of Chicago will endeavor to develop and present exciting new kinds of music theater," Eaton said. "It will reach out to as large an audience as possible, with as small a company as is practical, with fresh, vital and accessible performances that have the potential to win audiences unfamiliar with or uncertain about opera." The Pocket Opera Company includes the New York New Music Ensemble --Jean Kopperud, clarinets; Jayn Rosenfeld, flutes; Linda Quan, violins; Michael Finkel, violoncellos; James Winn, piano; and James Baker, percussion -- as well as soprano Lauren Miller, mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, tenor Harold Broch, baritone Jeffrey Morrisey, and Pieter Snapper, who will perform electronic music on the Eaton-Moog Multiple-Touch-Sensitive Keyboard.

    The operas will be conducted by Cliff Colnot and directed by Michael Phillips, with lighting design by Stephen Quandt. Set and costume elements will be designed by Eugene Walter, an award-winning designer as well as an internationally known poet. Walter, the author of 10 volumes of poetry, wrote the libretto of "Let's Get This Show on the Road."

    "Let's Get This Show on the Road" takes six moments from the book of Genesis -- chaos, light, the rise and fall of Lucifer, the creation and fall of mankind, the first murder and the story of Noah's ark -- and recreates them in actions and commentaries set to music. In the actions, the instrumentalists assume the personas of some of the characters in the play. They wear parts of costumes and masks to identify them as such and may whisper, speak normally, recite, shout or sing. The singers have roles in all three parts of the drama, sometimes sharing parts with the instrumentalists. The commentaries usually are confrontations between the singers in their various roles.

    Similarly, "Peer Gynt," written especially for the New York New Music Ensemble, is a collection of 10 theatrical fragments that are based on scenes from the Ibsen play. As in "Let's Get This Show on the Road," the instrumentalists will also perform as actors.