Dec. 2, 1999
Vol. 19 No. 6

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    [eaton and solano] by jason smith[cliff colnot] by jason smith
    Cliff Colnot, Musical Director for the University Contemporary Chamber Players, conducts musicians and singers during a daylong rehearsal for the upcoming productions of Travelling with Gulliver and Antigone. The two operas were written by John Eaton, Professor in Music, who has revived and reorganized his Pocket Opera Company. Eaton ( at left ) directs tenor Ulises Solano during the rehearsal.

    Pocket Opera returns to stage this month

    John Eaton, Professor in Music, will see the premieres of two new operas and the revival of his newly reorganized Pocket Opera Company when the company presents Antigone and Travelling with Gulliver next week.

    Eaton formed the Pocket Opera Company of Chicago in 1992 with the idea that a small, innovative opera company could tour easily and perform in non-traditional venues. To achieve his goals for the group, Eaton substituted a large orchestra with a small group of instrumentalists that not only plays for, but also takes part in the expressive action of the opera.

    “The musicians wear parts of costumes and masks to identify them for the audience as theatrically involved performers,” explained Eaton. “They are asked to whisper, speak normally, recite, shout or sing in various non-operatic ways and, on occasion, dance. In general, they have themselves a good romp. Whatever they do besides play their instruments seems to be a natural outgrowth of what they are playing.”

    For the Chicago performances, which mark the city premiere of Travelling with Gulliver and the world premiere of Antigone, the musicians will be Janice Misurel Mitchell, flutes; Eric Mandat, clarinets; James Bosnos, percussion; Sebastian Huydts, piano; Benjamin Sutherland, electronics; Florentina Ramniceanu, violin; and Craig Trompeter, violoncello.

    Eaton, an internationally acclaimed composer of 16 other operas, wrote the two small-ensemble works. They will be staged back-to-back with performances scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, Friday, Dec. 10, and Saturday, Dec. 11, at the Harold Washington Library, State and Van Buren streets. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11, there will be a special matinee presentation of Travelling with Gulliver for families and children.

    Gulliver is a whimsical look at the lesser-known, third and fourth books of Jonathan Swift’s epic. The piece, which features a libretto written by Eaton’s daughter, Estela Eaton, was commissioned by the Fromm Foundation and was premiered with great success by the Boston Musica Viva.

    Antigone is set to a libretto by Eaton’s long-time collaborator, Nicolas Rudall, Associate Professor in Classics, who also was the Director of Court Theatre for many years. Rudall and Curt Columbus, Director of University Theater, staged the two works that feature sets designed by world-renowned sculptor Dimitri Hadzi. Cliff Colnot, Musical Director for the University Contemporary Chamber Players, will conduct both operas.

    In addition to its instrumentalists, the Pocket Opera Company of Chicago features a vocal quintet, trained not only in traditional operatic singing, but in contemporary and vernacular vocalism from throughout the world as well.

    Taking part in the December performances will be Sharon Quattrin, soprano; Julia Bently, mezzo-soprano; Ulises Solano, tenor; Jeffrey McCollum (Creon in Antigone) and Eric Miranda (Gulliver), baritones; and jazz singer Stacia Spenser. While instrumentalists dominate the action in Travelling with Gulliver, the singers take the spotlight in Antigone, which features vocalism in the grand operatic tradition.

    To avoid any reliance on sets or elaborate stage mechanisms, actions are staged through the use of simple and light, movable bits, projections and kinetic lighting techniques. Costumes and props were designed with only suggestive elements.

    Recently reorganized as a not-for-profit corporation, the Pocket Opera Company of Chicago has achieved a level of autonomy and financial stability that Eaton said will allow the group to begin executing a more ambitious series of engagements.

    Beginning in the winter of 2000 and for each subsequent year, the company intends to premiere a commissioned work by a different composer along with either a new opera by Eaton or a work previously written for the company.

    The group also has plans to extend its outreach activities. Eaton sees his innovations as potentially effecting a democratization of the form. “With no cumbersome sets or an orchestra to move, after its premieres in a traditional theater, the Pocket has the lightness and flexibility to hop into a van and appear at any museum space, theater, cultural center, college or high school auditorium that will have us,” he said.

    “The company will be performing with an exceptionally versatile group of instrumentalists and singers cum actors,” said Eaton. “Such performance––fresh, vital and accessible––has the potential to win audiences unfamiliar with or uncertain about opera.”

    Tickets for evening performances of Antigone and Travelling with Gulliver are $20 for adults, $10 for students and $5 for children under 11. For the Saturday matinee, tickets are $5 for children 12 and under and $10 for all others. For more information, call (773) 702-8577 or visit the Pocket Opera Company of Chicago’s Web site at http://www.pocketoperachicago.com.