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News : Entertainment Nov 8, 2010 - 8:58 PM

UConn stages concert production of chamber opera "The Wooden Sword"


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The University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts and its Departments of Music and Dramatic Arts will bring an archetypal folk tale about joy and humility to life at the Ferguson Library in Stamford Saturday, Nov. 13, with a costumed concert performance of the award-winning one-act chamber opera, “The Wooden Sword.”

The opera, with music by Sheila Silver and libretto by Stephen Kitsakos, won the 2007 Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Composition. This internationally prestigious award, presented by UConn, is the largest composition prize given by any university in the world. The honor was established through a gift from Raymond and Beverly Sackler of Greenwich, Conn., major philanthropists and frequent donors to the University.

The Saturday, Nov. 13, performance, in the Ferguson Library Auditorium, One Public Library Plaza, begins at 7:30 p.m., is free and will last about an hour. The opera will be sung in English. For more information, contact Producer Robert Miller at (860) 486-4783.

With roots in Afghan and Jewish cultures, “The Wooden Sword” shows how a simple cobbler’s humility and cleverness provide insight for a mighty king. The operatic telling focuses on the powerful but anxious King Zamani who seeks to discover the secret of happiness from Hazim, the cobbler. Disguised as a wanderer, Zamani visits Hazim and his family at night and witnesses their joyful singing. The king then makes a series of decrees designed to reduce Hazim to despair, not believing that the cobbler can stay true to his simple philosophy of trusting in joy, not in fear. Unaware that he is being challenged, Hazim outwits the king’s obstacles at every turn.

The score incorporates exotic and lively rhythms of the Near East, straight tone chant, and a contemporary lyricism, making it engaging to audiences of all ages.


The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Composition is an internationally prestigious award presented by the University of Connecticut, and the largest composition prize given by any university in the world.

The prize offers significant recognition for the composer, including public performances and recordings. Each year, entrants are asked to compose a piece for a specific area of the musical arts as determined by members of UConn’s music faculty. The final adjudication of the entrants is made by a panel of distinguished internationally recognized musicians. In 2007--the year Sheila Silver was honored—the committee was comprised of John Corigliano, Mark Ross Clark and George Twombly.

The Sacklers, major philanthropists from Greenwich, are well-known supporters of the arts and sciences throughout the world and frequent donors to the University.

Raymond Sackler is an internationally known philanthropist who, with brothers Mortimer and Arthur, financed the Sackler Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In 1981, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Assyrian Art opened at the Met. In 1995, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth knighted Raymond Sackler for his contributions to the sciences, arts, and astronomy.

The Sacklers fund several important initiatives at the University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts, including an artist-in-residence program, the Master Artists and Scholars Institute, and the Art and Archeology Lecture Series. The Sacklers were also instrumental in forging an academic partnership between the Metropolitan Opera and UConn, the first collaboration of its kind between that historic opera company and an institution of higher learning. The fund provides a UConn student with a career-enhancing internship at the Metropolitan Opera, and music and drama students with behind-the-scenes access to the Met.


"Only a few composers in any generation enliven the art form with their musical language and herald new directions in music. Sheila Silver is such a visionary." -- Wetterauer Zeitung, Germany

Sheila Silver (Composer) has had works commissioned and performed by numerous orchestras, chamber ensembles, and soloists throughout the world including the American Composers Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Tanglewood, The RAI Orchestra of Rome, the Seattle Symphony, and the and the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra. Her honors include: a Bunting Institute Fellowship; the Rome Prize; the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Composer Award; twice winner of the ISCM National Composers Competition; and awards and commissions from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, Bellagio, the MacDowell Colony, New York State Council of the Arts, the Barlow Foundation, the Paul Fromm Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Cary Trust. Her teachers include Erhard Karkoschka, Gyorgi Ligeti and Arthur Berger.

In addition to The Wooden Sword, another dramatic work by Silver and librettist Stephen Kitsakos -- The White Rooster, A Tale of Compassion, Cantata for Women’s Vocal Quartet, Tibetan Singing Bowls and Percussion -- is having its premiere this year. Commissioned for the vocal ensemble, Tapestry, by the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, this staged cantata had its first performances at the Freer as well as at the Music and Beyond Festival in Ottawa last summer and will have subsequent performances in Memphis, Portland, Ore.; and Los Angeles before the end of the year.

Recent recordings include the DVD film of Silver’s opera, The Thief of Love, released by Hummingbird Films; Twilight’s Last Gleaming, for two pianos and percussion on Bridge Records; Piano Concerto and Six Preludes for Piano on Poems of Baudelaire on Naxos; Shirat Sara (Song of Sarah on Naxos; and Six Preludes for Piano on Poems of Baudelaire on Albany Records.

Silver is Professor of Music at Stony Brook University in New York.

THE LIBRETTIST, Stephen Kitsakos

Stephen Kitsakos (Librettist) has been involved in a variety roles in professional and academic theater for the past 30 years. A permanent member of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop and a graduate of New York University, he received training as a theater composer and lyricist. His teachers and mentors have included the distinguished composers Sheila Silver, Robert Starer, Maury Yeston and the lyricist Richard Engquist.

He has received writing commissions from The Catskill Watershed Alliance, The Episcopal Diocese of New York, and the BMI Foundation including a series of pieces for "The Woodstock Cycle" a series of contemporary compositions inspired by sacred stories. His theater work includes musical direction for numerous productions including several Stephen Sondheim shows. Kitsakos has been a contributor to The Sondheim Review. A faculty member of the Theatre Arts Department at the School of Fine & Performing Arts at SUNY New Paltz, Kitsakos teaches courses in theater studies and music theater performance as well as directs productions. Most recently he directed the world premiere of "Red Masquerade" by Jack Wade, which was a finalist for the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.


Jeffrey Renshaw (Conductor and Musical Director) is acclaimed by critics as a conductor whose performances are “both atmospheric and incisive; tender and gentle and simply beautiful; refreshes the senses,” and is respected worldwide for his dynamic interpretations and extensive command of wind ensemble and contemporary repertoire. His ability to bring out vibrant colors and textures in a wide-range of works, coupled with his expertise in 20th- and 21st-century music, have earned him a strong following internationally as a conductor, pedagogue, arranger and author.

Renshaw received his Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in conducting from the Eastman School of Music. His 1993 appointment as wind ensemble conductor at UConn followed a position at the Eastman School of Music as Assistant Professor of Conducting and Ensemble Coordinator.

Students from his conducting studio have won conducting positions in wind bands and orchestras at colleges, universities, conservatories and professional ensembles throughout the United States and Europe. At the University of Connecticut he is Professor of Conducting, conductor of the University Wind Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Composition, Chair of Conducting and Ensembles, and teaches undergraduate and graduate conducting.


Mark Womack, baritone (King Zamani) has been hailed for his "rich clear voice and good looks" (Salt Lake Tribune) and as “strikingly warm, gracefully honey-toned” (Opera News), Womack is rapidly gaining praise for his commanding vocal and dramatic interpretations. The 2010-11 season features Mark as Sharpless in Madama Butterfly with Knoxville Opera, Frank Chambers in The Postman Always Rings Twice with Sacramento Opera, Guglielmo in Skylight Opera Theater’s Cosí Fan Tutte and Marcello in La Bohème with the Amherst Symphony Orchestra. Mark will be returning to Utah Festival Opera in the summer of 2011 for the title role in Don Giovanni and as Lieutenant Joe Cable in South Pacific.

Engagements in 2009 included Friedrich Bhaer in Little Women with Syracuse Opera, Marcello in La Bohème with Chattanooga Symphony and Opera and Escamillo in Carmen with Utah Festival Opera.

In previous seasons, Womack has performed Sharpless in Madama Butterfly with Sarasota Opera, the title role in Don Giovanni with Anchorage Opera, Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro with Mississippi Opera, Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette with Opera North , Lescaut in Manon Lescaut with Dicapo Opera Theater and Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor with Chattanooga Symphony and Opera. Womack’s versatility as a performer has lead to an array of unique projects such as Baz Luhrmann’s highly acclaimed production of La Bohème in which he made his Broadway debut as Marcello. In addition, Womack has made appearances with Connecticut Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, El Paso Opera and Des Moines Metro Opera.

On the concert stage, Womack has appeared at The Rose Theater - Lincoln Center with Teatro Grattacielo in the rarely performed Zazà and I gioielli della Madonna, as well as Carnegie Hall in Schubert’s Mass in G, Mozart’s Mass in C and Arwell Hughes‘ Dewi Sant. Womack has performed major sacred works including Bach's St. John Passion, Mozart's Coronation and Requiem Masses, Britten's Dona Nobis Pacem and the Fauré and Duruflé Requiems. In addition to classical repertoire, he has appeared in pops concerts with the Toronto, Seattle, Portland, Edmonton, New Haven and Indianapolis Symphony orchestras.

Womack’s theater credits include Billy Bigelow in Carousel, Edward Rutledge in 1776, Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Curly in Oklahoma and Joseph Cable in South Pacific. Operetta credits include The Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance, Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore, Grosvenor in Patience, François Villon in The Vagabond King and The Red Shadow in The Desert Song.

LISA CONLON, soprano (Benefsha) A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music (M.M) and the Eastman School (B.M.), soprano Lisa Conlon has engaged a variety of music styles during her career, including classical, jazz and musical theater styles. Most recently in Coral Gables, Fla., she appeared as Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte, L’Ecureuil, La Chat and La Libellule in L’Enfant et les Sortileges and at the 2009 Festival Miami as Arietta in Dennis Kam’s Opera 101. While at the Manhattan School of Music, she participated in the American Musical Theater Ensemble's Cy Coleman Revue and sang in a master class with the late Anna Moffo.

In 2002 while at Eastman, Conlon won the Lotte Lenya Competition for Singers. Shortly after she was featured in a winners' concert and sang Minny Belle in a concert version of Kurt Weill's Johnny Johnson, both at the Bruno Walter Auditorium in Lincoln Center. Additional scene and role performances include Donna Elvira, Pamina, Norina, Susanna, Zerlina, Despina, Maria (West Side Story), Julie (Carousel), Ella Hammer (Cradle Will Rock).

Conlon resides in Connecticut, maintains an active performance and teaching career, and is pursuing the Doctoral of Musical Arts degree at UConn.

ELISE QUAGLIATA, mezzo-soprano (Anya) recently garnered notice for her dynamic stage presence, theatrical range and musical intelligence. Upcoming performances include Jo in Little Women with Pensacola Opera, and Anya in The Wooden Sword, by Sheila Silver at the University of Connecticut as a guest artist. In 2008, Quagliata was heard at Florida Grand Opera as Cornelia in Guilio Cesare and Carmen in La Tragedie de Carmen with Opera Omaha. Her 2006 performance of Carmen with Pensacola Opera captivated the critics, one of whom pronounced her "one of the finest Carmens I have ever seen” (Mobile Register) and another "simply riveting" (Pensacola News Journal). Her "striking, bold tone, superb diction and excellent acting" (Des Moines Register) was also noted in her performance of Nicklausse in Les contes d'Hoffmann for Des Moines Metro Opera.

Previously, Quagliata sung Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with The National Philharmonic and Rockland Opera, and Bertha, also in Barbiere, with Pensacola Opera. Other roles have included Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte, Hansel in Hansel and Gretel, Arsamenes in Xerxes, Lisak in The Cunning Little Vixen, Queen Gertrude in Weiss' Ophelia, Thisbe in La Cenerentola, Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Rosine in Signor Deluso and Cecily in La Divina. She has also been heard in a variety of Gilbert and Sullivan roles.

Quagliata's solo orchestral credits include upcoming performances of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the Santa Barbara Symphony and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius with the Savannah Philharmonic. Previous performances include Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with both the Reno Philharmonic and the Westfield Symphony, Mahler's Rückert Lieder with Reno Philharmonic, the New York premiere of Henry Cowell's Atlantis with the American Symphony Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall, DeFalla’s Sombrero Tres Picos with Virginia Symphony, Verdi’s Requiem with Westfield Symphony, Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody and Mozart’s Solemn Vespers with the Buffalo Philharmonic, Montsalvatge’s Cinco Canciones Negras with the Pensacola Symphony, DeFalla's El Amor Brujo with the New Hampshire Symphony.

Quagliata is an impressive recitalist, and The New York Times recently noted her "rich, expressive voice and passionate delivery" for her collaboration with Jake Heggie and Carol Wincenc in The Deepest Desire at Merkin Hall. She has performed recitals in Basel, Kreuzlingen, Siena, Miami, New York, Pensacola (where she welcomed the King and Queen of Spain with DeFalla and Obradors) and as a guest alumni recitalist at the University of Connecticut. Adept in a variety of repertoire from contemporary to early music to jazz and cabaret, Quagliata has been especially lauded for her exceptional performances of American, Czech, German and Spanish works, and praised for the "glorious grace" which has characterized her Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers.

In 2007, Quagliata was among four winners in the Liederkranz Society’s Lieder Competition, and performed in recital with other winners at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall. She was also the 2005 winner of the Metropolitan Opera's District Auditions for New York City.

Quagliata began her career as a Studio Artist with Chautauqua Opera and continued as an Apprentice and Ensemble Artist with Des Moines Metro Opera, Resident Artist with Opera Iowa, Resident and Mainstage Artist with Pensacola Opera, Young American Artist with Glimmerglass Opera, and a Resident Artist with Florida Grand Opera. Graduating Summa Cum Laude, Quagliata trained at the University of Michigan and the University of Connecticut.

JOHN CARLO PIERCE, tenor (Hazim) is an internationally known lyric tenor, who spent 14 years performing opera on the stages of the United States and Europe. He began his career in the Young Artists Program of the Florida Grand Opera in Miami. In 1997, he made his European debut as Victorin in Die tote Stadt at the Festival of two worlds in Spoleto, Italy. As a result of his work in this production he was invited to join the International Opera Studio of the Cologne Opera in Germany, where he soon was promoted to soloist, appearing in leading roles in Die tote Stadt, Falstaff (Fenton) and Macbeth (Malcolm) among others.

From 2001-2006, Pierce was resident lyric tenor for the State Theatre in Mainz, Germany. While there he was responsible for more than 25 roles covering a broad range of repertoire. Highlights from his tenure in Mainz include Handel’s Saul (Jonathan), which was broadcast live on German television, and the world premier of an opera based on the life of Johannes Gutenberg, composed by Gavin Bryars. Other roles include Belmost (Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail), Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni), Conte Almaviva (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Alfredo (La Traviata) and Rinuccio (Gianni Schicchi).

Pierce joined the Geissen Theater in 2006, where he added to his repertoire several new roles over the next three seasons, including Prince Ramiro in La cenerentola, and Narraboth in Salome.

As a guest artist, Pierce has sung at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, the Aargau Festival in Switzerland, and in Darmstadt, Dortmund, Freiburg, Heidelberg, Kassel, Nuremberg, and Schwerin. He began study in the Doctor of Musical Arts program at the University of Connecticut.

NATHAN RODRIGUEZ, baritone, (The Guard) recently graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and is pursuing a Performer’s Certificate. With UConn Opera Theater, Nathan played Frank in Die Fledermaus.

He covered the same role with Worcester Opera Works. Other partial roles at UConn include Don Alphonso in Cosi fan tutte, Maximillion in Candide, Beaumarchais in Ghosts of Versailles, Dr. Bartolo in The Barber of Seville, Figaro in Nozze di Figaroand Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutte. This spring, he will portray Pangloss in the University of Connecticut Opera Theater production of Candide. Rodriguez studied voice with Dr. Sylvia McClain and currently studies with Dr. Jeffrey McEvoy. He coaches Maestro Willie Waters.

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