By Kirke Mechem
Illustration by Bill Burgard

March 24 at 7:30 PM
March 25 & 26 at 8 PM
march 27 at 4 PM
Mendelssohn Theatre

newsletter | press release | program | photographs

From our Newsletter
"I am a Shock Wave Sponge" - A Look Behind the Scenes with Opera Stage Manager Brett Finley
In the late '80s when I was teaching stage management in the UM Theatre Department and production stage manager for University Productions, a wonderful guest designer and director, John Shak, stuck a sign on my door that read "I am a Shock Wave Sponge." I still have it. It's perfect. As the stage manager for many professional and UM School of Music productions, I really have absorbed and released dozens of artistic frustrations, absurd technical notes, and some really thrilling creative explosions!

The stage manager for an opera production is the person who is responsible for coordinating the artistry of the singers, designers and directors. In rehearsal I act as an information conduit between the artistic staff and the various technical staff, hence the Shock Wave Sponge label. During the 2-3 weeks of room rehearsals every aspect of the production is rehearsed, discussed and adjusted. Typically, a show only has 4-5 onstage rehearsals before opening, so problems must be anticipated and solved before moving into the theatre. My job is to make sure nothing is forgotten during the rehearsal period.

Once onstage, I ensure that when the singers make their entrances, everything will be the same every time. The props will be correctly placed, the lighting consistent, the explosions and weapons safe. They depend on this, and it frees them to concentrate on their singing and their acting. If Violetta in "La Traviata" is expecting Red Zinger tea in her wine glass during her famous "Sempre Libera" aria, discovering Cranberry Apple might startle her. It may be red, but it just doesn t taste the same.

In a big production, I am on a headset with more than a dozen technical department heads. Nothing of a technical nature happens onstage without my "go." I follow the score where I have written every single cue in the precise place in the music where it happens. For example, in "Rigoletto," a lightning flash should happen exactly on the cymbal crash. That's what Verdi had in mind. In "Macbeth," the witches brew must boil at the precise moment that they cast the spell, which means giving the cue a couple of bars early to ensure that the fog is visible as they toss in the magic powder.

Stage management is incredibly rewarding if you have the ability to see the big picture of a production, and can keep your sense of perspective, and your sense of humor. What can you do but laugh when, during the final scene of "La Bohème" at the Kennedy Center, the supertitle screen suddenly translates Rodolfo's "Bella come un'aurora" (You are as beautiful as a sunrise) as "Your batteries are low, your screen will dim" and the audience howls with laughter? Then there was the time Bev Pooley's feathered Captain Hook hat caught on fire opening night of "Peter Pan" at the Michigan Theatre, and one of the pirates had the presence of mind to grab it off Bev's head and walk the gangplank himself! Maybe sense of humor should be first on the list.

I used to think opera was boring. I started off wanting to do musicals, calling cues on Broadway. However, in 1980 a casual backstage conversation led me to San Francisco Opera where I worked as an assistant stage manager for three years. In my first show at SFO, Placido Domingo patted me on the shoulder each night as I gave him the standby for his entrance. He was off to meet his destiny with UM's treasured Shirley Verrett as Delilah. I stood awestruck in the wings as Leontyne Price sang "Il Trovatore." And for 10 performances I cued Pavarotti's Triumphal March entrance... "The chariot's stuck on the pyramid!!! Get the chariot off the scenery!!!!" I left San Francisco as a complete opera fanatic. I d found it - the place where I belonged.

In 1985 my husband, Henry, and I came to UM. We loved working with the students and passing along our passion for technical production. We hijacked a couple dozen English and engineering undergrads, and started them off down a career path of professional theatre. What a thrill to know we planted seeds that grew so beautifully!

In 1996, I resigned my position at UM and returned to working as a freelancer - have headset, will travel! This past year I came full circle professionally when I was offered my lifelong professional fantasy - a stage management position at San Francisco Opera. I spent this fall listening to, among others, Ruth Ann Swenson as Violetta (some of the most gorgeous singing I've ever heard) and Frederica von Stade as Despina. I also called the hardest show I've ever done, a US premiere from the Royal Danish Opera called "Le Grande Macabre," where the first 2 pages of music is played by the percussionists on tuned car horns. I had to learn some new tricks for that one, I can assure you.

In March I'll stage manage "Tartuffe" for the School of Music. I love doing UM productions - meeting the young singers and working with the fledgling stage managers. Following and assisting their careers is so much fun! How delighted I was to see and hear UM grad Sean Pannikar in San Francisco this summer where he'd just been accepted as an Adler Fellow in the best young artist training program in the country. Sean and Thomas Glenn, also a UM grad, are the two tenors in the program - Go Blue!

I am so lucky. I've worked with so many wonderful people in this business. An opera production is made up of an amazing community of people who have gathered to make something meaningful and beautiful. No one can do it alone. And that includes the audience. So, the next time you are sitting in a darkened theatre and a light cue goes exactly on the perfect beat of music, you'll hear it and see it at the same moment and catch your breath. Think of the stage manager. She'll be trying to give you a real Goose Bump Moment!

- Brett Finley

Press Release
ANN ARBOR  The UM School of Music Opera Theatre presents "Tartuffe" by American composer Kirke Mechem. Featuring one of the oldest plot kernels in theater and opera - a hard-headed father who tries to force his daughter to marry a man she despises - "Tartuffe" plays March 24 at 7:30 PM, March 25 & 26 at 8 PM, and March 27 at 4 PM (special time due to Easter Sunday) at the Mendelssohn Theatre in Ann Arbor. The score is lyrical with tonal harmonies featuring references to Beethoven, Strauss, and Stravinsky. Guest Kay Walker Castaldo directs and Andrew George, visiting asst. professor in the School of Music, conducts the University Philharmonia Orchestra. The opera will be sung in English with projected supertitles and features alternating casts.

Based on Molière's comedy of the same name, "Tartuffe" tells the story of a supposed holy man named Tartuffe. Under the religious cloak of piety, Tartuffe befriends Orgon, a rich man who is so swept away by Tartuffe's charisma and his message of the uncomplicated holy life that he gives him everything, including his daughter's hand in marriage and the deed to his house. Seeing their inheritance snatched away, Orgon's family tries various schemes to expose Tartuffe's hypocrisy.

With over 260 performances in 70 productions since its 1980 San Francisco Opera premiere, "Tartuffe" has become one of the most popular operas ever written by an American. The opera has been performed around the world in English, German, Russian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and is being translated into Czech for the National Theater in Prague. The opera was featured in the Vienna Kammeroper's "20th-century Classics" series in 2002 playing to rave reviews and ovations. A production by the Mussorgsky National Theater of St. Petersburg, Russia ran in repertory for three years.

Kirke Mechem has composed over 250 works and has been called the "Dean of American Choral Composers." He has written two operas in addition to "Tartuffe:" "The Newport Rivals," and "John Brown," and is currently working on an opera based on "Pride and Prejudice." His music is flowing, melodious, dramatic, and highly accessible. He is also known for his use of clever musical quotations and parodies. In "Tartuffe" these range from suggestions of Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky to an exact quotation of the opening notes of Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" - followed by the line, "Sounds like fate knocking at the door." Mechem states, "Molière had fun with language and so did I. He invented words, he punned, and he told literary purists that the end of comedy was to please - that his success was his justification. I have taken the same attitude as composer. The score abounds in musical jokes, parody, caricature, even musical puns. 

Guest director Kay Walker Castaldo has directing numerous operas, plays and musical theatre works, and recently directed "Il Barbiere de Siviglia" at the Toledo Opera. Castaldo describes "Tartuffe" as "a spoof on how we run from the beauty of life. It's the tale of a man in crisis trying to regain his youth and control. In his efforts, Orgon marries a younger woman and looks towards faith to find inner peace. In doing so, Orgon opens himself to Tartuffe s brand of religion and his conniving scheme to achieve his own goals of wealth and power. It's a tale of duality, to be or to seem, that is the question."

Joining Castaldo and George on the artistic team is Rob Murphy, assoc. professor in the Dept. of Theatre and Drama whose designs were last seen in "The Rover," as scenery and lighting designer. Christianne Myers, asst. professor in the Dept. of Theatre and Drama, whose designs were last seen in "Hansel and Gretel," designs costumes. UM graduate student Benjamin Rous serves as assistant conductor and will conduct the performance on Sunday, March 27.

Ticket prices are $20 and $15 reserved seating with students only $9 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at www.uprod.music.umich.edu. The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, located at 911 N. University, is accessible to persons using wheelchairs and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.
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CAST (Hometown):
March 24 & 26, 2005
Orgon: Kenneth Kellogg (Washington, D.C.)
Tartuffe: David Wilson (Grand Blanc, MI)
Damis: Emery Stephens (Boston, MA)
Valere: Michael Fabiano (North Reading, MA)
Elmire: Reverie Mott Berger (Upland, CA)
Mme.Pernelle: Lorraine Yaros Sullivan (Greeley, CO)
Marianne: Andrea Moore (Chesapeake, VA)
Dorine: Jo Ellen Miller (Middletown, NJ)
Flipote: Marlene Fullerton (Conway, SC)

March 25 & 27, 2005
Orgon: Devin Provenzano (West Windsor, NJ)
Tartuffe: Nathan Brian (Plymouth, MN)
Damis: Travis Pratt (Tifton, GA)
Valere: David Steely (Mason, MI)
Elmire: Rebecca Jo Loeb (Glen Ridge, NJ)
Mme.Pernelle: Julie Cross (Miami, FL)
Marianne: Suzanne Kyung Mi Ma (Garden Grove, CA)
Dorine: Hannah Williams (Acton, MA)
Flipote: Marlene Fullerton

Supers: Darren Biggert (Crownsville, MD), Talia Corren (Denver, CO),
Monique Holmes, Garen McRoberts (Kenosha, WI), AJ Shively (Dublin, OH)

- Kerianne M. Tupac

Click here to view the Tartuffe program as a PDF file

Production Photographs
March 24 & 26, 2005

Lorraine Yaros Sullivan as Mme. Pernelle Kenneth Kellogg as Orgon

Kenneth Kellogg and Revierie Mott Berger as Elmire Andrea Moore as Mariane

Jo Ellen Miller as Dorine Andrea Moore and Michael Fabiano as Valere

Emery Stephens as Damis David Wilson as Tartuffe

Reverie Mott Berger and David Wilson Kenneth Kellogg and Andrea Moore

Emery Stephens Michael Fabiano

Andrea Moore and Jo Ellen Miller

March 25 & 27, 2005

Devin Provenzano as Orgon Suzanne Kyung Mi Ma as Mariane

Suzanne Kyung Mi Ma and Devin Provenzano David Steely as Valere

Nathan Brian as Tartuffe Rebecca Jo Loeb as Elmire and Nathan Brian

Devin Provenzano and Nathan Brian Rebecca Jo Loeb and Devin Provenzano

Julie Cross as Mme. Pernelle and Devin Provenzano Travis Pratt as Damis

Hannah Williams as Dorine Daivd Steely as Valere