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Performance Programs > 2023-24 Season >  Voice & Opera

Elizabeth Cree

A chamber opera in one act

based on the novel The Trial of Elizabeth Cree by Peter Ackroyd

Music by Kevin Puts

Libretto by Mark Campbell

Supertitles by Brett Finley

Commissioned by Opera Philadelphia, September 2017

Department of Voice and the University Philharmonia Orchestra
March 21 – March 24, 2024 • Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre

A one-act chamber opera based on Peter Ackroyd’s “downright exhilarating” (LA Times) novel, The Trial of Elizabeth Cree. 

Set in London in the 1880s, this highly suspenseful and theatrical opera interweaves several narratives: the trial of the titular heroine for the poisoning of her husband; a series of brutal murders committed by a Jack the Ripper-style killer; the spirited world of an English music hall; and, finally, some “guest appearances” by luminaries from the Victorian Age. Elizabeth Cree is a work that combines the factual with the fictional and the historical with the imaginary.


Content Warning

This opera contains abstracted depictions of violence–murder, dismemberment, and execution–as well as blasphemy and sexual content. We recommend it for ages 17+.

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Creative Team

Kirk Severtson

Gregory Keller

Assistant Conductor
Nicholas Bromilow

Scenic Designer
Audrey Tieman

Costume Designer
Christianne Myers

Lighting Designer
Abi Farnsworth

Hair and Makeup Designer
Brittany Crinson

Dialect Coach
Jeremy Sortore

Diction Coach
Timothy Cheek

Resident Intimacy Choreographer and Cultural Consultant
Raja Benz

Resident Dramaturg
Karin Waidley

Rehearsal Pianists & Vocal Coaches
John Morefield
, Muse Ye

Production Stage Manager
Kayleigh Laymon



Elizabeth Cree
Aria Minasian

John Cree
Robert Wesley Mason

Aveline Mortimer/Witness #1
Katelyn Brown


Elizabeth Cree
Danielle Casòs

John Cree
Jack Morin

Aveline Mortimer/Witness #1
Juliet Schlefer

All Performances

Dan Leno
Alexander Nick

Uncle/Witness #9
Thomas Long

Inspector Kildare/Witness #7/Executioner
Tyler Middleton

Doris/Witness #3
Daiyao Zhong

Little Victor Farrell/Witness #4
Jabari Lewis

Mr. Greatorex/George Gissing/Etcher/Witness #6
Cody Carlson

Mr. Lister/Karl Marx/Voiceover/Witness #8
Loren Reash-Henz

Priest/Librarian/Witness #5
William Fishwick

Jane Quig/Annie the Serving Girl/Witness #2
Amelia Zhang

Shadow Play Performers
Mia Brooks, Joaquin Consuelos, Nate McCanna,
Elizabeth Nigg


Kirk Severtson

Assistant Conductor
Nicholas Bromilow

Violin I
Allyson Cohen

Violin II
Caleb Frailey

Yifei Wang

Dayoung Park

Double Bass
Jack Reed

Chin-Fang Wu

Lillian Matthews

Olivia Galante

Ella Hebrard

Clifton Little

Claire Marquardt

Bass Trombone
Evan Ling

Austin Nordhaus,
Jonathan Wentzel

Ryley Busch

John Morefield, Muse Ye

Assistants to the Creative Team

Assistant Director Mirit Skeen

Assistant Hair & Makeup Designer Bridget Rzymski

Assistant Costume Designer Kayti Sanchez

Assistant Hair & Makeup Supervisor Sam Whetstone

Assistant Dramaturgs Shelby Alexander, Abigail Labbé

Production Crew

1st ASMs Briana Barker (Rehearsals), Andy Blatt

2nd ASMs Sammer Ali, Justin Comini, Banks Krause, Victoria Kvasnikov, Yuchen Ma

Charge Artist Ellie Vice

Sound Engineer Al Hurschman

Shop Crews

Theatrical Lighting  Shira Baker, Abi Farnsworth, Sydney Geysbeek, Ethan Hoffman, Elianna Kruskal, Brandon Malin, Megan Mondek, Christian Mulville, Gabriela Ribeiro Znamensky, Kathleen Stanton-Sharpless, William Webster, Miles Zoellick

Painting  Gilayah McIntosh, Bella Rowlison, Martha Sprout, Seri Stewart, Lauren Streng, Ellie Vice, Amber Walters, Angela Wu & Theatre 250/252/262 students

Props  Eliza Anker, Danielle Bekas, Andy Blatt, Madysen Casey, Aquila Ewald, Dallas Fadul, Audrey Hollenbaugh, Lucy Knas, Teresa Morales, Charlotte Stallings, Audrey Tieman & Theatre 250/252 students

Scenery  Marium Asghar, Juliet Bornholdt, Andy Blatt, Anna Forberg, Miles Hionis, Hannah Kryzhan, Michael Russell, Sophia Severance, Lauren Streng, Eliza Vassalo & Theatre 250/252/262 students

Costumes  Maya Liu, Esmay Pricejones, Kaytlin Sanchez, Ellie Van Engen & Theatre 250/252/262 students

Production Office  Briana Barker, Justin Comini, Estie Hwang

Running Crew

Light Board Operator Yuki Wu

Follow Spot Operators Sarah Lau, Daniel Simpson

Supertitles Operator Dorian Hall

Scenery Deck Crew Anastasia Bredikhina, Emerson Forbes, Amber Sosa

Props Crew Bella Detwiler, Mira Grayton, Ally Johnson

Wardrobe Crew Julia Lepore, Mila McCoy^, Eliza Vassalo, Emily Weddle

Hair and Makeup Crew Anna Forberg, Victoria Pinto

Flight Effect Captain Heather Udowitz

^=Crew Head

Design & Production Faculty Advisors

Head of Design & Production  Christianne Myers

Stage Management  Nancy Uffner

Scenic Design  Jungah Han, Kevin Judge

Costume Design  Christianne Myers, Sarah M. Oliver

Lighting Design  Jess Fialko

Sound Design  Henry Reynolds

Staff Mentors

Brittany Crinson, Heather Hunter, Chad Hain, Beth Sandemaier

Department of Voice

Scott Piper

Opera Faculty
Timothy Cheek, Kirk Severtson, Matthew Thompson, Mo Zhou

Voice Faculty
Freda Herseth, Stephen Lusmann, Caitlin Lynch, Amanda Majeski,
Rose Mannino, Stanford Olsen,
Scott Piper, George Shirley,
Louise Toppin, Daniel Washington, Stephen West

Associated Faculty
Antonio Cuyler, Caroline Helton

Distinguished Visiting Artist
Thomas Hampson

Professors Emeriti
Willis Patterson, Carmen Pelton, George Shirley

University Productions Administrative Staff

Executive Director
Jeffrey Kuras

Sr Administrative Specialist
Christine Eccleston

Sr Administrative Assistant
Nathan Carrillo

Information Systems Manager
Henry Reynolds

Facilities Manager
Shannon Rice

Performance Halls
House Manager
Kelley Krahn

Lead Backstage Operations Manager
Dane Racicot

Senior Backstage Operations Manager
David Pickell

Backstage Operations Managers
Tiff Crutchfield, Alex Gay, Yvette Kashmer, Robbie Kozub

University Productions Production Staff

Production Manager
Paul Hunter

Assistant Production Manager
Michelle Williams-Elias

Technical Director (Walgreen)
Richard W. Lindsay Jr.

Theatrical Scenery Manager
Chad Hain

Lead Scenic Carpenter
Devin Miller

Scenic Carpenter
Heather Udowitz

Charge Scenic Artist
Beth Sandmaier

Associate Theatrical Paint Manager
Madison Stinemetz

Theatrical Properties Manager
Patrick A. Drone

Associate Theatrical Properties Manager
Danielle Keys

Senior Properties Artisan
Dan Erickson

Visiting Theatrical Hair and Makeup Manager
Brittany Crinson

Theatrical Lighting Manager
Heather Hunter

Associate Theatrical Lighting Manager
Jorrey Calvo

Sound Designer/Engineer
Henry Reynolds

Costume Shop Manager
Laura Brinker

Assistant Costume Shop Manager
Leslie Ann Smith

Lead Cutter/Draper
Tj Williamson

Seth Gilbert, Sarah Havens

Rene Plante

Theatrical Stitcher
Marcia Grace

Lead Costume Crafts Artisan
Elizabeth Gunderson

Costume Stock Manager
Theresa Hartman

Wardrobe Manager
Rossella Human

Theatrical Properties Stock and Tech Coordinator
Katherine Kreutz


PROLOGUE, April 9, 1881; Camberwell Prison

Elizabeth Cree is hanged for the murder of her husband, John. As the noose tightens around her neck, Elizabeth utters an enigmatic phrase: “Here we are again.”

SCENE 1, January 1881; The Courtroom

Elizabeth stands on trial for murdering her husband. The prosecuting attorney inquires about her former life before she met and later married John Cree.

SCENE 2, September 1878; A Street in London

Elizabeth returns in memory to her youth when she was known as “Lambeth Marsh Lizzie” and lived in poverty with her abusive mother, mending sails for the fishermen on the Thames. After her mother dies, Elizabeth uses the collection the fishermen have raised to fulfill her dream of visiting the music hall. She runs across town to a theatre, buys a ticket, and goes inside.

SCENE 3, September 1878; The Music Hall, Onstage

Elizabeth watches a variety show, enthralled as the famous comedian Dan Leno performs a skit playing Bluebeard’s housekeeper.

SCENE 4, September 1878; The Music Hall, Backstage

Elizabeth slips backstage after the performance and meets Dan Leno, as well as others in his company: “Uncle” the Ventriloquist; Doris, the Goddess of Wire-Walking; Little Victor Farrell the Magician; and Aveline Mortimer the Wide-Eyed Warbler (who leaves soon after Elizabeth arrives). The performers, hearing of Elizabeth’s plight, quickly adopt her into their stage family.

SCENE 5, September 10, 1880; The Diary of John Cree

An entry in the diary of John Cree recounts the murder of a young prostitute named Jane Quig.

SCENE 6, September 12, 1880; An Office in Scotland Yard

Panic grips London after the murder of Quig, and Inspector Kildare of Scotland Yard is assigned to the case. Searching for clues, he learns that Quig occasionally swept the floors of the Reading Room in the British Museum, so he interrogates the noted novelist George Gissing, who does his writing there.

SCENE 7, February 1881; The Courtroom

At her trial, Elizabeth is questioned by the defense attorney. Elizabeth suggests that John took his own life, due to a “morbid disposition.” The prosecuting attorney implies that Elizabeth murdered John for his money and calls Aveline Mortimer to the stand.

SCENE 8, April 1878; The Music Hall, Backstage and On

After working for several months backstage with the troupe of actors, Elizabeth makes her stage debut, replacing an increasingly truant Aveline Mortimer. It is a great success. After her performance, John Cree, playwright and critic, goes backstage and introduces himself.

SCENE 9, September 12, 1880; The Diary of John Cree
Another entry in the diary of John Cree records the murder of Solomon Weil, a Hebrew scholar.

SCENE 10, September 14, 1880; An Office in Scotland Yard

Kildare interrogates Karl Marx, who was a colleague of Weil’s and also frequents the Reading Room. Meanwhile, public panic grows and the murderer is dubbed “The Limehouse Golem,” because of the geographic location of the crimes and because a Jewish man is the latest victim.

SCENE 11, February 1881; The Courtroom

At the trial, the prosecuting attorney interrogates Aveline Mortimer and raises the suspicion that Elizabeth killed John by poisoning him with a “physic” she concocted herself.

SCENE 12, November 1878; The Music Hall, Backstage and On

Elizabeth has risen to star status in the world of the music hall but grows bored with ingénue roles. She performs a song in male attire with Dan called “The Clever Cleaver Act.”

SCENE 13, September 15, 1880; The Diary of John Cree

An entry chronicles another brutal murder: that of the entire Gerrard family, slaughtered to commemorate the Marr family murders immortalized in Thomas De Quincey’s “On Murder As One of the Finer Arts.”

SCENE 14, September 26, 1880; An Office in Scotland Yard

Kildare seeks clues in the Gerrard family murders and questions Dan, as Mr. Gerrard once served as his dresser. After Dan leaves Scotland Yard, he quietly bemoans a world in which such evil exists. Meanwhile, the panic in London builds and Kildare feels more pressure to find the murderer.

SCENE 15, February 1881; The Courtroom

At the trial, Aveline raises stronger suspicions that Elizabeth murdered her husband.

SCENE 16, November 1879; The Music Hall, Backstage

After a performance, Uncle learns that Elizabeth is about to go on another date with John Cree. He accuses her of opportunism, mentioning that John is both a theatre critic and wealthy.

SCENE 17, November 1879; A Street in London, Under a Full Moon

John confesses his love for Elizabeth and proposes marriage. Elizabeth accepts.

SCENE 18, June 1880; The Music Hall, Backstage

At a marriage celebration, Dan toasts Lambeth Marsh Lizzie’s new life…as Mrs. John Cree.

SCENE 19, September 1880; The Home of John and Elizabeth Cree

John is frustrated that Elizabeth refuses to consummate their marriage. He leaves for the Reading Room at the British Museum. Elizabeth decides to engage Aveline as a maid to satiate John’s desires.

SCENE 20, September 1880; The Reading Room, the British Museum

In the Reading Room, John expresses despair about his marriage, while working on his new play, entitled Misery Junction. Karl Marx appears and requests a book from the librarian.

SCENE 21, September 1880; The Home of John and Elizabeth Cree

Aveline is engaged to work in the Cree household as a housekeeper. John meets and is instantly attracted to Aveline. He leaves, but returns and flirts with Aveline.

SCENE 22, September 1880; The Reading Room, the British Museum

John continues to voice his sorrow at his unhappy marriage while working on Misery Junction. He is joined in the Reading Room by Karl Marx, George Gissing, and Dan Leno.

SCENE 23, September 1880; The Home of John and Elizabeth Cree

Elizabeth tells Aveline that John suffers from mad dreams and orders her to give him a “physic” that she prepares herself every night.

SCENE 24, March 1881; The Courtroom

The two attorneys conclude their arguments in the trial of Elizabeth Cree.

SCENE 25, October 1880; The Reading Room, the British Museum

Marx, Gissing, and Leno continue to read their books, but John is absent from the Reading Room. Elizabeth returns three books to the librarian.

SCENE 26, November 1880; An Office in Scotland Yard

Kildare is dumbfounded that the Limehouse Golem’s murders have suddenly stopped and that the public now turns its fickle attention to the trial of Elizabeth Cree.

SCENE 27, March 1881; The Courtroom

Elizabeth is convicted of murdering John and sentenced to death.

SCENE 28, April 9, 1881. A Cell in Camberwell Prison/The Diary of John Cree

The Priest visits Elizabeth and hears her confession.

SCENE 29, September 1881; A Theatre

A year later, it’s opening night of John Cree’s play, now entitled The Crees of Misery Junction, which has been rewritten to capitalize on his murder and stars Aveline Mortimer (“The Woman Who Was There”) as Elizabeth Cree. Unfortunately, there is a calamitous scenic malfunction, prompting Dan to remark, “Here we are again.”

The performers in this production were students in the Department of Voice and the University Philharmonia Orchestra. The designers for this production were students, faculty, and/or guests of SMTD. Scenery, costumes, properties, sound, and lighting were realized by the students and staff of University Productions, the producing unit of the SMTD. Thank you for supporting our educational mission.


By arrangement with Aperto Press, publisher; Bill Holab: Sole Music Agent

*Nicholas Bromilow will conduct the performance on Sunday, March 24th.

This production is dedicated to Professor Martin Katz in celebration of his retirement.

Hector Crеmieux (Libretto, 1828–1892) was a French dramatist whose work was heavily inspired by the politics of his day. During the revolution of February 1848, he secured a commission as lieutenant of the Garde Mobile. The turbulent French political landscape he grew up around inspired Crémieux to adapt the history of [Giovanni Luigi] Fiesco, from the German of Friedrich Schiller, for the French stage. The emperor, solicitous to bestow political patronage upon those who had been daring enough to give him support in the risky affair of December 2, rewarded Crémieux in 1852 with a clerkship in the Ministry of State. This patronage enabled him to enter upon a literary career and to exploit the financial possibilities of the Parisian stage of the second empire. Crémieux had a long and illustrious theatrical career, but to this day his most famous work remains Orpheus in the Underworld. Sadly, Crémieux committed suicide in 1892.

—Bio excerpted from Jewish Encyclopedia

Ludovic Halévy (Libretto, 1834–1908) was born in Paris. His uncle, Fromental Halévy, was a noted composer of opera; hence the double and early connection of Ludovic Halévy with the Parisian stage. In 1855, he became acquainted with the musician Offenbach. His first work was produced under the pseudonym of Jules Servières. The name of Ludovic Halévy appeared for the first time on the bills on January 1, 1856. Soon afterwards, the unprecedented run of Orpheus in the Underworld, written in collaboration with Hector Crémieux, made his name famous. Late in life, Halévy remained an assiduous frequenter of the Academy, the Conservatoire, the Comédie Française, and the Society of Dramatic Authors, but, when he died in Paris on 7 May 1908, he had produced practically nothing new for many years.

—Bio excerpted from the Opera San Jose

Jacques Offenbach (Composer, 1819–1880) is a French composer of German origins (he became a naturalized French citizen in 1860) who wrote some of the most attractive and melodious music for the stage during the middle years of the nineteenth century. While his final work, the opéra fantastique The Tales of Hoffmann, is one of the most significant French operas of the nineteenth century, Offenbach’s main achievement is in the field of operetta, in which he excelled, producing almost 100 examples. Several operettas continue to keep a place in the repertory, notably Orpheus in the Underworld and La belle Hélène, which, though based on ancient myth, mercilessly satirize Napoleon III’s Second Empire and Parisian society of the day.

—Excerpted from the English National Opera


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