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Victoria Bond’s Mrs. President, the opera at Peter Norton Symphony Space
In 19th century America, women didn't have the right to vote, much less run for president. But in 1872, Victoria Woodhull did just that, and, much more recently, has inspired an opera based on her life. In the opera Mrs. President, composer Victoria Bond and librettist Hilary Bell have crafted a seething drama of ambition and betrayal, which tells the story of Woodhull's visionary struggle to defy history and become the first female President of the United States.
This performance is a preview of Anchorage Opera's October production in Alaska, and includes all of the arias and dramatic elements of the opera, with piano accompaniment. Tenor Scott Ramsay portrays the charismatic preacher Henry Ward Beecher and dramatic soprano Valerie Bernhardt will sing the title role of Victoria Woodhull. The cast also includes soprano Katrina Thurman as Isabella Beecher, soprano Rebecca Cloudy as Elizabeth Tilton, mezzo-soprano Joy Hermalyn as Roxie Claflin, tenor Kirk Dougherty as Joseph Treat and bass- baritone Robert Osborne as James Blood. Narrator Naomi Lewin of WQXR will give an introduction and provide continuity in the story. Lemuel Wade directs. Cast bios, photos and other details are at www.MrsPresidentTheOpera.com.
Based on a real person, Victoria Woodhull's life story reads like grand opera. Her run for president in 1872 was just the tip of the iceberg. She was a clairvoyant, publisher, jailbird, stockbroker and proponent of free love. Despite her courage and persistence, Woodhull was viciously attacked by the conservative society in which she lived, a movement which was spear-headed by the powerful and influential preacher Henry Ward Beecher. Woodhull spent Election Day in prison, jailed for revealing Beecher's secret life, a sex scandal that ignited the public and the press.
Composer Victoria Bond and librettist Hilary Bell were drawn to Woodhull’s compelling character because her goal of women’s equality remains a hot-button issue throughout the world today. In a review of the 2008 workshop performance of Mrs. President at Guild Hall in East Hampton, Fred Volkmer of The East Hampton Star writes,
“Not only is the opera significant for what it says about the nature of men and women and their equality, something that we continue to strive for. But it is revelatory of what new music—music that adheres to tonality and celebrates the lyric capabilities of the human voice—can be. “
Praised by the Chicago Sun-Times for his performances of Edgardo in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lucia di Lammermoor, tenor Scott Ramsay will portray the charismatic preacher Henry Ward Beecher in Mrs. President. Dramatic soprano Valerie Bernhardt will sing the title role of Victoria Woodhull. She has been called “…a dramatic soprano with a soaring range, who makes the most difficult vocal gymnastics seem effortless.”
In addition to Bernhardt and Ramsay, the cast includes soprano Katrina Thurman as Isabella Beecher, soprano Rebecca Cloudy as Elizabeth Tilton and mezzo-soprano Joy Hermalyn as Roxie Claflin. Tenor Scott Ramsay sings the role of Henry Ward Beecher, tenor Kirk Dougherty as Joseph Treat and bass-baritone Robert Osborne as James Blood. Lemuel Wade directs, and the orchestra, cast and chorus will be conducted by the composer, Victoria Bond. Cast bios are at the end of this press release and are at www.MrsPresidentTheOpera.com.
As part of the company’s 50th anniversary celebration, Anchorage Opera performs the world premiere of the fully- orchestrated score of this ground-breaking opera in concert on October 5 and 7, 2012 at the Discovery Theatre in Anchorage, Alaska. The July 9, 2012 performance at Symphony Space in New York is a preview of the Alaska performances.
Information about Anchorage Opera, including details of their 50th anniversary season, is at www.AnchorageOpera.org. Full synopsis of Mrs. President, the opera, bios of composer Victoria Bond and librettist Hilary Bell, hi-resolution photos and details about the New York and Anchorage productions are at www.MrsPresidentTheOpera.com.
Anchorage Opera presents a premiere production of Mrs. President, the opera Music by Victoria Bond Libretto by Hilary Bell
Peter Norton Symphony Space 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, NY, NY Monday, July 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm
Tickets: $20 Call Symphony Space box office 212-864-5400 Or visit SymphonySpace.org
CAST/PRODUCTION Victoria Woodhull: Valerie Bernhardt Henry Ward Beecher: Scott Ramsay Isabella Beecher: Katrina Thurman Joseph Treat: Kirk Dougherty Colonel James Blood: Robert Osborne Elizabeth Beecher: Rebecca Cloudy Roxie Claflin: Joy Hermalyn Narrator: Naomi Lewin Director: Lemuel Wade
Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838–1927) was a 19th century American who was described by Gilded Age newspapers as a leader of the American woman's suffrage movement. She went from rags to riches twice, her first fortune being made on the road as a highly successful magnetic healer before she joined the spiritualist movement in the 1870s. Woodhull became a colorful and notorious symbol for women's rights, free love, and spiritualism as she fought against corruption and for labor reforms. Although she was the first woman to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and owned and ran a weekly newspaper, she is most famous for her sensational 1872 campaign to run as the first female candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Her running mate was Frederick Douglass, and ironically, neither was legally able to vote at the time. ~ ~ ~
A major force in 21st century concert music, Victoria Bond (composer and conductor) leads a dual career as composer and conductor. Her compositions have been praised by the New York Times as "Powerful, stylistically varied and technically demanding," and her conducting has been called “impassioned” by the Wall Street Journal and “full of energy and fervor” by the New York Times.
Bond has been commissioned by American Ballet Theater, Pennsylvania Ballet, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Houston and Shanghai Symphony Orchestras, Cleveland and Indianapolis Chamber Orchestras. She was recently honored with the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Walter Hinrichsen Award.
Bond has served as Exxon/Arts Endowment Conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony; guest conducted internationally and was profiled in the Wall Street Journal, NBC’s Today Show, People Magazine and The New York Times. The first woman awarded a doctorate in conducting from The Juilliard School, Bond has served as Music Director of the New Amsterdam and Roanoke Symphony Orchestras and Artistic Director of Opera Roanoke and the Harrisburg Opera, Music Adviser of the Wuhan Symphony in China and Principal Guest Conductor of Chamber Opera Chicago.
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Hilary Bell (librettist) writes for stage, radio, screen and music theatre. Plays include Wolf Lullaby (Atlantic, Steppenwolf, Griffin Theatre), Fortune, The Falls (Griffin) and Shot While Dancing (shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award). She has written libretti for musicals, song cycles, opera and for Phillip Johnston’s score to Murnau’s silent film Faust, premiered at the New York Film Festival and performed internationally. Bell is a member of playwrights' company 7- On, and a recipient of the Philip Parsons Young Playwrights’ Award, Jill Blewitt Playwrights’ Award, Bug’n’Bub Award and the Aurealis Award for Fiction, among other awards. Hilary also works as a mentor and dramaturge, and as a playwriting teacher.
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Dramatic soprano Valerie Bernhardt will sing the title role of Victoria Woodhull. Scoring successes with the New York City Opera and the Pittsburgh Opera, Valerie was praised in her German debut as Abigaille in Verdi’s Nabucco, for “an enthralling portrait of the power-hungry Abigaille, thanks to her phenomenal coloratura-technique and superior high register even in the dramatic passages. She has been called “…a dramatic soprano with a soaring range, who makes the most difficult vocal gymnastics seem effortless.”
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Praised by the Chicago Sun-Times for his performances of Edgardo in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lucia di Lammermoor, tenor Scott Ramsay will portray the charismatic preacher Henry Ward Beecher in Mrs. President. Ramsay made his Canadian debut in Verdi’s Requiem with the Toronto Symphony led by Sir Andrew Davis and recently sang Fritz in Offenbach's La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein opposite Stephanie Blythe at Opera Boston.
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Last seen in Anchorage as Maria in The Sound of Music Katrina Thurman’s (Isabella Beecher) most recent engagements include Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow with Shreveport Opera, and Gilda in Rigoletto with Sacramento Opera. The 2010-2011 season included a return to The Opera Show with the Kilworth House Theater in the UK, Yum- Yum in The Mikado with Syracuse Opera, Soloist in Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the Danbury Symphony, Adina in L’elisir d’amore with Lyrique en Mer, and and evening of modern art song with the American Opera Projects. Katrina is featured on the recording of Louis Karchin’s opera, Romulus, on the Naxos label.
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Tenor Kirk Dougherty (Joseph Treat) sings in concert and opera throughout the US, including recent performances with Greenwich Choral Society, Opera Saratoga, Bronx Opera, Opéra Louisiane, and Missouri Civic Orchestra, among others. At Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, NY, he is a recipient of the Carlotta Savoca Memorial Award and recently sang the roles of Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor) and Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) as a guest artist. He was previously a festival artist at Utah Festival Opera and an apprentice artist at Central City Opera. Originally from Sleepy Hollow, NY, he received the Master of Music degree from Eastman School of Music.
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Bass-baritone Robert Osborne created the role of Colonel Blood for workshop performances of Mrs. President, and is delighted to reprise it for the premiere in Anchorage. He has sung over fifty roles in operas from Bernstein to Weill with companies in Paris, Berlin, New York, Houston, Santa Fe and Los Angeles. His concert career has taken him to stages around the world, and his recordings of operas include Harry Partch’s The Wayward, Meredith Monk’s Atlas, Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis, Hindemith’s Hin und zurück, Richard Wilson’s Aethelred the Unready, and Stewart Wallace’s Kaballah.
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Joy Hermalyn (Roxie Claflin) is thrilled to return to Anchorage Opera after appearing as the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. She has performed in operas from Austin to Lincoln Center to Spoleto to Utah in roles as diverse as Minnie in Fanciulla to Ragonde in Le Comte Ory to Musetta in Boheme. Ms. Hermalyn has been seen on Broadway as Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof, Chaperone in Cyrano, Old Lady (u/s) in Candide, Mrs. Fezziwig in A Christmas Carol, and Baz Luhrmann’s La Boheme. Ms. Hermalyn recorded and performed Benny Andersson/BjornUlvaeus’ Kristina at Carnegie Hall, NY and Royal Albert Hall, London. She recently appeared as Sister Berthe in Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall with Stephanie Blythe. Other recent credits: Seven Deadly Sins at New York City Ballet (standby for Patti LuPone); Death Takes a Holiday (Cora) at the Roundabout, NY. Ms. Hermalyn is a Voice Professor at Kean University in NJ.
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Noted for her stage presence and nuanced performances, Soprano Rebecca Cloudy will sing the role of Elizabeth Tilton. In 2010, Ms. Cloudy made her European debut to critical acclaim at Teatro Sociale in Amelia, Italy, performing Lucy in Menotti’s The Telephone and Kendra in Arias and Barcarolles by Bernstein. Highlights of previous seasons include the West Coast and Mexican premieres of Five Lovers by Lori Laitman and performances of Madama Butterfly, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and Il barbiere di Siviglia with the chorus of Anchorage Opera.
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Naomi Lewin (narrator) is weekday afternoon host on WQXR, and also hosts WQXR's podcast Conducting Business. She has produced intermission features for Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, and music programs and feature stories for NPR - - most recently, this year's April Fool's story about the "discovery" of Beethoven's Tenth. Given her previous lifetime as a singer an actress, Naomi has continued to appear onstage, narrating Peter and the Wolf, Carnival of the Animals, King David, Façade, A Visit from the White Rabbit, and Four Seasons of Italian Futurist Cuisine by Aaron Jay Kernis. She has given talks on operas from Aida to Zauberflöte, and has written and performed her own opera introduction for children.
Chicago native Lemuel Wade (director) brings an international, critically acclaimed career as a singer/dancer to his craft as a stage director. Of his directorial debut at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre in 2008, the Fayetteville Observer praised him as “outstanding,” noting his keen ability to meld professional and student actors. In summer 2012, Wade is director of Cincinnati Opera’s Porgy and Bess, featuring Opera News cover star Measha Brueggergosman.
Anchorage Opera is the largest producer of the performing arts in Alaska and one of America’s leading regional opera companies. As the center of opera in Alaska, Anchorage Opera provides the finest operatic experiences to residents and visitors, while also serving as a professional resource for American artists, administrators and technical staff, helping them to refine their talent and perfect their craft.
In recent years, under the artistic direction of Torrie Allen, Anchorage Opera has proved a commitment to producing American operas, including this season’s Pacific Northwest Premiere of Grapes of Wrath by Ricky Ian Gordon.
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