22 & 24, 2004
An Opera in Three
Logo by Heins Creative
Based on the film by F. W.
'Nosferatu' opera highlights
visiting poet's achievements
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Arts & Entertainment
Editor | Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2002
Opera began as
So it seems natural that
award-winning poet Dana Gioia should tackle the
words, or libretto, for "Nosferatu," a vampire
story of mythic proportions.
prolific, dabbling in many literary forms -
linguist, poet, critic, translator. Lovers of
poetry and opera have three days of treats in
store, with his Billings visit this week.
highlight of the visit is Friday's presentation
of scenes from "Nosferatu," which is built
around the character Ellen, a soprano in the
touching role of victim.
imagine a gothic thriller like Bram Stoker's
'Dracula,' " Gioia says. "I felt it was a story
about a woman caught in a tragic circumstance.
We didn't want a horror story. The vampire is
only on stage three times. But, when he is, he's
larger than life."
Nagel, scheduled to play the vampire, is
recuperating this week from emergency retinal
surgery. On Tuesday, he was debating whether to
play a tape for his role or hand the spotlight
entirely to soprano Susan Gundunas.
the show will go on Friday evening, and Gundunas will sing three or four
Nagel and Gundunas are linked to "Nosferatu"
composer Alva Henderson through Opera San Jose,
where Nagel has directed productions and where
Henderson heard and loved Gundunas' voice. He
also admired Gioia's writing, so the elements
The Henderson-Gioia "Nosferatu"
is based on the famed silent movie by F.W.
Henderson wrote the role of Ellen
with Gundunas and her voice in mind, "just as
Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi wrote their finest
roles for specific singers," Gioia explains.
Billings audiences will "hear the soprano
for whom the music was written and get the bonus
of having the librettist here to talk about it
and introduce it," Nagel says. "That just
doesn't happen very often - anywhere."
Gioia hit the national spotlight with his lively
and passionate 1991 Atlantic essay, "Can Poetry
He has been the subject of
special programs on the BBC and National Public
Radio, and he lectures widely.
Santa Rosa, Calif., Gioia, 51, is a native of
Los Angeles who began a career in business in
New York after earning his MBA at Stanford and
became vice president of marketing for General
He also completed a master's in
comparative literature at Harvard and left
business in 1992 to become a full-time writer.
After the Atlantic piece, his essays and
poetry received national acclaim. His critical
collection was chosen a "Best Book" by
Publishers Weekly. He was nominated for a
National Book Award and was a finalist for the
National Book Critics Award in Criticism.
Gioia is half-Italian, and the other half is
native American and Mexican.
great-grandfather was killed in a gunfight in
Wyoming, so I'm connected to your part of the
country," he notes.
Gioia's Billings residency, he will take part in tonight's
lecture, "Why Poetry Matters in America" at
Cisel Recital Hall, Thursday's poetry reading at
Yellowstone Art Museum and Friday's recital of
scenes from "Nosferatu," back in Cisel.
"I'll narrate and give scenes from the opera," Gioia says.
opera the only living form of poetic drama and
calls opera "the only remaining form of tragic
As music critic for San
Francisco Magazine and a lifelong follower of
opera, Gioia says, "It seems to me that a lot of
the most interesting stuff being done in opera
is by small, regional companies."
poetry has musical elements, too, he says. "It
is meant to be read aloud."
Poetry, he said, "is a magic
spell you're trying to create over the reader -
opening the floodgates of memory and
Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2002 11:00 pm
Poet and librettist Dana Gioia will speak about
his creation of the libretto for "Nosferatu,"
with arias to be performed this evening. The
effort is sponsored by MSU-Billings, Rimrock
Opera, the Writer's Voice and Yellowstone Art
Museum, on the MSU-B campus.
night program with Susan Gundunas, soprano, is
the final evening in a three-part collaboration
of art and music programs on poetry and music in
The poet will describe and
introduce scenes from "Nosferatu," an opera
composed by Alva Henderson, featuring Gioia's
libretto. San Jose opera star Susan Gundunas has
chosen several arias to perform.
event will take place tonight, March 1, at 7:30
p.m. at Cisel Hall, MSU-Billings. There is a $5
Nagel and Susan Gundunas star in the Rimrock
Opera Company's ”Nosferatu.”
Opera company opens 5th
season with world premiere
CHRISTENE MEYERS Of The Gazette Staff | Posted:
Sunday, September 26, 2004 11:00 pm
Billed as a "dark and sensuous tale of obsessive
love," Rimrock Opera Company's "Nosferatu" hits
the boards in October, with two free previews in
the next 10 days.
ROC celebrates its
fifth year and its most ambitious season with a
world premiere, some heavy-hitting opera stars
and a libretto written by famed poet Dana Gioia.
Gioia's other hat is as president of the
powerful Washington, D.C.-based National
Endowment for the Arts. He and his
California-based family will be in Billings in
October for part of the celebration, including
opening night Oct. 22 at the Albert Bair
ROC artistic director Douglas
Nagel arrived in Billings Friday to begin a
frantic few weeks of rehearsals with 35 Billings
choristers and a 30-piece pit orchestra. Barbara
Day Turner, a finalist for the Billings Symphony
conductor's job, returns to ROC to conduct and
Symphony concertmaster Mary LaMonaca will lead
the strings. The other stars hail from across
the United States and will be in Billings for
two-plus weeks of final rehearsals.
tale has been interpreted in various venues as
"Dracula," and Nagel describes his production as
"a more artistic take on Bram Stoker's story.
Our version focuses more on drama than on
horror. It's sexy, but subtle, and suitable for
The storyline is based on the
classic silent film by F.W. Murnau. To get the
town in a "Dracula" frame of mind, the
enterprising Nagel is preparing a variety of fun
and informative previews, movie viewings and
"We want the audience
informed and as excited as we are," Nagel said.
Among other enticements, the Parmly Billings
Library is hosting a daylong showing of
Dracula-related films on Oct. 23, the day after
the official world premiere.
excited to host the pair of free previews.
Joining him at both will be opera star Susan
Gundunas, portraying the leading lady, Ellen. At
the Sept. 29 preview, composer Alva Henderson
will be present. He wrote the role specifically
with Gundunas' soprano voice and versatility in
mind. At the second preview, Nagel will be
joined by opera star Sandra Rubalcava, known to
ROC audiences for her winning portrayal of Donna
Anna in "Don Giovanni."
pleased to be able to share the knowledge and
talent of these extraordinary people," said
Nagel, who sings the vampire role. "How often do
people get this kind of opportunity, to meet the
composer, hear excerpts, ask questions? It's
Nagel says the production is "by far ROC's most
adventurous project, epic really, and a first on
so many levels." Its budget is over $200,000,
more than twice that of earlier productions.
At the previews, Nagel also plans to discuss
the opera's plot lines and show details from the
set - also a first, created in Billings by ROC.
The free previews are Wednesday, Sept. 29,
and Wednesday, Oct. 6, both at 7 to 9 p.m. and
both at the old DeMarco's Clothing location in
the center of West Park Plaza. Punch and cookies
will be served.
Breathing life into a vampire
Director Charles Maryan,
conductor Barbara Day Turner and composer Alva
Henderson gather in Billings to work on ”Nosferatu.”
On the cover, Douglas Nagel, as Count Orlock,
menaces heroine Susan Gundunas in ”Nosferatu,”
in a Gazette photo by Larry Mayer.
CHRISTENE MEYERS Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Thursday, October 14,
2004 11:00 pm
like a world premiere to test the mettle of a
So Rimrock Opera
Company's artistic director Douglas Nagel is
running neatly sculpted directed circles around
himself as "Nosferatu" rehearsals enter the
The premiere involves
"firsts" - from creation of new set, to public
meshing of the work of composer and librettist
for the first time, to design of costumes and
rehearsing of new music.
"Because this is
a premiere, there are no recordings to buy,
nothing to reference for how the music should or
could sound," Nagel says.
He wanted the
orchestra to be perfect because national
reviewers and publications are expected at the
premiere, so Nagel hired acclaimed California
harpist Anna Maria Mendita. She will play the
difficult harp score in the 30-piece orchestra,
which includes many of the best musicians in the
region, with concert master Mary LaMonaca.
Nagel feels "completely comfortable, like
old friends" with the talents of LaMonaca, a
veteran to ROC productions, and conductor
Barbara Day Turner. The maestra is a finalist
for the Billings Symphony conducting job and is
also an old friend of ROC, having conducted
Nagel is ROC's
artistic director, the glue holding the
production together, and is singing the leading
role of Orlock, the
Hungarian count later revealed to be the vampire
Errand boy, star.
For the past two months, Nagel
has been ROC's errand boy, rehearsal coordinator
and general "go-fer." ROC has many volunteers, a
capable board and a terrific support system in
the cast and crew. Another essential ingredient
is Nagel's devoted mother, Helen, who keeps his
schedule together, offers moral support and a
musical ear, and even bakes goodies for
Still, Nagel is not above
tending to details himself.
That can mean
picking up someone at the airport, confirming a
publicity photo shoot, proof-reading the
program, turning out the lights after rehearsals
or putting the finishing touches on the
supertitles, cue cards that the audience can
view. Because the work is new, he wants people
to be able to view the text, even though the
opera is in English.
Another first: The director of the National
Endowment, poet Dana Gioia, is coming to hear
ROC interpret his libretto.
composer Alva Henderson has been in Montana for
several weeks, working with the maestra and
company, perfecting the nuances of his score.
Nagel says, "His music has fabulous
melodies, almost like you'd be watching a great
movie. The lines flow, yet there is excitement.
His orchestration is smartly built around being
able to hear the singers clearly."
Gioia is a
"singer's writer" whose sense of poetry and
lyricism shine through, Nagel says.
of directing the production himself, as he has
done before, Nagel hired Charles Maryan, who
recently did the stage direction for singer
Carly Simon's opera on divorce.
libretto was developed from the 1922 silent film
classic by F.W. Murnau.
"I didn't imagine a
gothic thriller," Gioia says. "Instead, I felt
it was a story about a woman caught in a tragic
Stars surround ROC
Opposite Nagel's title
character is soprano Susan Gundunas, as Ellen.
The doomed heroine becomes the obsession of
Orlock, her husband's sinister business
associate. Henderson wrote the role specifically
for the soprano's substantial range and
A host of talent
surrounds the two leads, including some voices
audiences will remember from past ROC
productions of "Tosca," "Don Giovanni" and other
For previous productions, Nagel
has obtained sets from other opera companies.
For "Nosferatu," he is creating his own, with
help from sketch artist Fred Voepel. The artist
produced dozens of moody sketches for the
two-act production, detailing the comings and
goings of various characters.
for ROC was the hiring of cover artists, a
string of talented players who could step in if
needed. Because the covers are rehearsing right
along and have learned every lyric, they will
sing a full rehearsal with audience.
"That way, they will be able to use 'Nosferatu' on their resumes," Nagel
Another first, emerging from "Nosferatu"
is the creation of the Rimrock Opera Children's
Chorus, a company of 30 young voices that plans
to remain active all year. This year, 25 adults
and two children are singing in the "Nosferatu"
chorus, backing up the pros.
voices to listen for next week are Karen Carle,
mezzo-soprano, San Francisco, as Marthe, and
Dennis Rupp, bass, Burbank, Calif., as Skuller.
Nagel is thrilled that Heidi Rae Kalina of
Lewistown, is Marthe's cover artist. The
character Marthe is Ellen's older sister and
guardian. Playing the cover of Skuller is
production chorus master Edward Harris.
Other familiar "cover" names are Christopher
Bengochea, from Brockton, who is covering the
part of Eric (he sang in ROC's "Don Giovanni")
as well as Sandra Rubalcava (who sang Donna Anna
in "Giovanni" here), covering the leading female
role of Ellen.
Gazette opinion: A world
premiere in downtown Billings
Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 11:00 pm
A world premiere on Broadway usually means New
York. But on Friday night, the spotlight will be
on the Alberta Bair Theater on Billings'
Broadway. Rimrock Opera Company will present the
world premiere of "Nosferatu."
idea of staging an opera in Montana - let alone
a world premiere - is a daunting undertaking
that would have discouraged all but the most
enthusiastic, energetic opera fans. Even the
casual observer must appreciate the challenges
of marrying new music, new prose, a professional
cast assembled from near and far, an orchestra
as well as the artistry and technical skills
required to create brand new sets for a
production that's never before been performed.
The stars of the world premiere will include
nationally known director Charles Maryan,
performers Susan Gundunas and Robert McPherson,
an acclaimed harpist from California, a 30-piece
local orchestra conducted by Barbara Day Turner
and original music by composer Alva Henderson.
Poet Dana Gioia, director of the National
Endowment for the Arts, is expected to be on
hand Friday when ROC interprets his libretto,
which he developed from the 1922 silent film
classic by F.W. Murnau.
Kudos to Rimrock
Opera Company, its hardworking volunteers and
community-minded sponsors. A standing ovation
for ROC artistic director Douglas Nagel, who is
performing the title role as well as organizing
dozens of details.
Today, a student
audience will experience the vampire opera
performed by the "cover" cast. Tickets were
still available Tuesday for both the 8 p.m.
Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday performances. (Call
256-6052.) If you've never attended an opera,
here's your opportunity right in downtown
Rimrock Opera Company has
concocted a rich treat - a Dracula drama just in
time for Halloween. Enjoy!
Head of arts agency is 'Nosferatu'
MEYERS Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Wednesday,
October 20, 2004 11:00 pm
opera "Nosferatu" began with a meeting of the
minds over cups of coffee and tales of the
legend of Dracula.
Henderson and poet Dana Gioia had a vision, to
pump new blood - pardon the pun - into the
ancient legend of the vampire.
down and talked first about the idea, the action
we saw happening, the creation of an opera to
tell this story," Gioia says.
Billings this week, from his Washington, D.C.,
office, the native Californian will wear several
hats during the weekend world premiere of the
One hat is as librettist for the
mid-19th-century opera, set in a moody Baltic
seaport town. Another hat is as an
internationally acclaimed poet and author of
three highly regarded books from which he'll
read Saturday night.
Finally, he wears
perhaps a more famous or at least a heavier hat
as chairman of the National Endowment for the
Arts. In that capacity, he will take part in
Friday's Montana Arts Council meeting at the
Yellowstone Art Museum.
To avoid any
conflict of interest, Gioia is attending the
opera premiere on his own time and at his own
expense. And he will receive no pay for
Saturday's free public reading on the Montana
State University-Billings campus, co-sponsored
by The Writer's Voice.
Gioia and Henderson
have been friends and colleagues for 20 years
and have conferred frequently during the Rimrock
Opera Company's rehearsals this month.
they began collaborating on "Nosferatu" around the
millennium, they first broke the opera into
scenes, establishing which characters would be
on stage within each scene and deciding where
they thought the big musical moments would come
in the action.
"Words and ideas came first,
then the characters and their vocal types,"
Gioia said. "This opera is very driven by
character, action and scene."
also agreed that, through their study of world
literature, the villain has to be appealing to
"Shakespeare, Marlowe, all
the great writers create villains who are
attractive and plausible," Gioia says.
he is confident that Douglas Nagel's character
of Count Orlock - later revealed to be Nosferatu
- will be complex, exciting.
reflects the death wish we all have to a degree
-that exciting desire for self-destruction, the
risk-taking," Gioia says.
he says, but not all that uncommon in musical
theater or opera, the work was written out of
"I think the second scene we
completed was for the first half of the finale,"
he says. "And that helped Alva. Having that
finale opening nearly done gave us new vigor,
and then fresh ideas came."
fitting the world premiere in between NEA
duties, a seven-day-a-week responsibility.
A poet since childhood, he says, "I suppose
I've taken all that energy and creativity and
put it into the NEA."
He has written
prose and poetry for many other musical forms,
including rock and jazz productions. Now, at the
NEA, he spends hours designing and championing
programs to bring jazz masters and Shakespeare
into schools and rural communities across the
country. A translator of many languages, Gioia's literary
passion extends to making the great works of
literature available to students of all ages and
The NEA post, he says,
has been a "real challenge, a real learning
"I think we've rebuilt the
organization," he says. "It is now an
institution of the highest quality. And,
happily, we have very strong bipartisan
His California roots and his
emergence from a family with little formal
education but an abiding love for the arts has
given Gioia the passion to make arts accessible
to everyone. The NEA focus has only temporarily
borrowed the verve from the poet.
creative, just a different outlet," he says. "I
hope to emerge from this job with a few poems in
poet Dana Gioia is also head of the National
Endowment for the Arts. Saturday night, he
tipped his hat to the written word at
MSU-Billings. He read from his own work, fielded
questions and discussed the mechanics of poetry
before an audience of more than 200.Opera's
writer charms 200 with poetry
LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff
portrays the leading lady, Ellen, in a part
written for her voice.World premiere of 'Nosferatu'
tonight at ABT
CHRISTENE MEYERS Of The Gazette Staff | Posted:
Thursday, October 21, 2004 11:00 pm
Rimrock Opera Company sinks its teeth into one
of literature's most complex and compelling
characters when "Nosferatu" opens tonight.
Billed as a "dark and sensuous tale of
obsessive love," the ROC production is the world
premiere, inspired by the 1922 F.W. Murnau
silent-film classic, "Nosferatu."
company's fifth year features its most ambitious
and star-studded production.
prestige of a world premiere, the ABT stage will
feature some heavy-hitting opera voices,
nationally known composer Alva Henderson and a
libretto written by famed poet Dana Gioia. The
latter says his vampire is evil, "with no
morality, no pity, and he's immortal."
is also "handsome, educated, polished and a
sophisticate who charms the life out of his
beautiful victim," Gioia says.
irresistible? Gioia and Douglas Nagel, Rimrock
Opera Company's artistic director and star, hope
When he shakes his metaphoric "Nosferatu"
cape and his poet's leather jacket, Gioia's
other and more pressing role is as president of
the powerful Washington, D.C.-based National
Endowment for the Arts. He and his
California-based family are in Billings for the
premiere and other events surrounding the
celebration, including a reading Saturday night
at Montana State University-Billings.
show includes 35 Billings choristers and a
30-piece pit orchestra. Barbara Day Turner, a
finalist for the Billings Symphony's conductor's
job, returned to ROC to conduct, and Billings
Symphony concertmaster Mary LaMonaca is
The "Nosferatu" tale has been
interpreted in various venues as "Dracula," and
Nagel describes his production as "a more
artistic take on Bram Stoker's story."
version focuses more on drama than on horror,"
Nagel says. "It's sexy, but that part is very
subtle, so it is entirely suitable for
Top cast on stage
Nagel, singing the vampire role, is thrilled
about the roster of impressive voices
surrounding him on stage. These include Seattle
tenor Robert McPherson, who sings the part of
Eric, opposite Ellen, the vampire's victim.
Nagel first sang with McPherson at Opera San
Jose. Since then, McPherson has performed major
roles in Avignon, France; Genoa, Italy; and La
Coruna, Spain. He sang the male lead to raves in
"Romeo and Juliette" and will debut in Madrid
next season as Constantino in Ramon Carnicer's
"Elena and Constantino."
talents include San Francisco opera star Susan
Gundunas, portraying the leading lady, Ellen.
Composer Henderson wrote the role specifically
with Gundunas' versatile and expressive soprano
Nagel also rattles off other "top,
top talents" involved in the production,
including opera stars Karen Carle of San
Francisco, playing Ellen's older sister; Dennis
Rupp of Burbank, Calif., as the trouble-maker
Skuller; and Sandra Rubalcava, known to ROC
audiences for her portrayal of Donna Anna in
New York director Charles
Maryan oversees the production. That's the
crowning touch, Nagel thinks.
do people get this kind of opportunity, to see
this collaboration of the best in their fields
on our own ABT stage?" Nagel asks. "It's
Bite off a big budget
Nagel says the production is "by far ROC's most
adventurous project - epic really - and a first
on so many levels."
Its budget tops
$200,000, more than twice that of earlier
productions, but the production will break if
the two performances are well-attended.
An "Opera Arias" fund-raiser earlier this month
raised several thousand dollars to the cause,
with the purchase of works sung by the "Nosferatu"
stars. Some of the pieces went for several
hundred dollars, and the range spanned favorites
from "Rigoletto" to "The Barber of Seville."
And the ABT and School District 2 purchased
the audience preview on Wednesday morning so a
sold-out house of 1,400 high-school students
Risky and expensive
though a world premiere is, from the building of
the first set to the interpretation to vocals
without precedent, "I know we did the right
thing," Nagel says. "It's been a marvelous,
exciting experience for all involved, and I
believe, for the community."
Opera to honor arts editor
Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Thursday, October
21, 2004 11:00 pm
Meyers, longtime arts and entertainment editor
of The Billings Gazette, will be honored Friday
night at the world premiere of "Nosferatu” at
the Alberta Bair Theater for her support and
promotion of the arts.
Meyers, who is
retiring from The Gazette at the end of the
month, will be presented with a plaque by Dana
Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for
the Arts, on behalf of the Rimrock Opera
Company. Gioia will be in town Friday to
participate in the Montana Arts Council meeting
at the Yellowstone Art Museum and to introduce "Nosferatu”
that night. Gioia, a poet, wrote the libretto
for the opera, which was composed by Alva
Lucinda Butler, president of
the ROC board, said Meyers was instrumental in
saving the Alberta Bair Theater and promoting
the arts in Billings during her lengthy career.
"We want to honor and thank Christene for her
enthusiastic support for the opera and for her
support and promotion of the arts,” Butler said.
Meyers has worked as a reporter and editor
for The Billings Gazette since 1968, covering
several news beats before helping the late
Kathryn Wright launch the weekly entertainment
Meyers, who is married to
William Jones, a painter and writer, was also
honored this fall at Billings Studio Theatre.
The theater dedicated the 2004-05 season to
Meyers to thank her for her contributions to the
arts in Billings, theater director Eric
"She's helped us tremendously
through the years,” he said. "All the coverage
we've gotten has made a huge difference in our
ability, not just to maintain, but to flourish.
Christene has done a lot for us and a lot for
the other arts organizations.”
BST held a
reception for Meyers at the final show of
"Losing Father's Body” on Oct. 2. Meyers and her
late husband Bruce Meyers performed together in
many musicals at the Fox Theater, Schwartzwald
Dinner Theatre and Billings Studio Theatre.
Meyers plays piano, and Bruce acted and sang.
Review: Opera offers original
take on old tale
CHRISTENE MEYERS Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Friday,
October 22, 2004 11:00 pm
At last, "Nosferatu" is indeed here.
A gifted group of singers ?no strangers to
acting ?gave "Nosferatu" the polish and
panache a fine opera needs at the world
premiere Friday night.
Mayor Chuck Tooley
graced the Alberta Bair Theater stage to
proclaim "Nosferatu Day," and a glittering
assemblage of celebrities and arts
supporters saluted this haunting work by
composer Alva Henderson and librettist Dana
Gioia, acclaimed poet and head of
the National Endowment for the Arts,
appeared on stage with his colleague, the
well-known composer Henderson, to brief the
audience. Then the curtain rose on a new and
original take on the handsome and polished
fanged man who charms the life right out of
The production made a
lasting impression on the packed ABT house.
Rimrock Opera Company's production delivers
soaring melodies; harmonious duets and
trios; arias to, well, die for; and poetry
aimed straight for the heart.
support of a solid pit orchestra and a
powerful chorus, the cast deftly and
dramatically tells the ages-old tale: a man
is trapped, tormented and controlled by his
"undead" status; he yearns for a beautiful
married woman; she, after much conflict and
premonition, sacrifices herself to free
Nosferatu from his misery and murder.
While the first act moves slowly as the
audience anticipates the vampire's arrival,
the payoff does come. Be patient and you
will be rewarded.
The vampire motif is an
ancient theme, perhaps dating back as far as
ancient Greece and part of the western
culture since its beginnings.
Henderson's savvy contemporary collaboration
does justice to this great romantic myth.
The music is hypnotizing, from the heroine's
anguished arias, to the pulsing choral
themes inspired by the text of "Dies Irae"
that warn of doom and the day of judgment.
In the lead role of Count Orlock, later
revealed to be Nosferatu, ROC artistic
director Douglas Nagel enters with regal
bearing. His sonorous, wide-ranging bass
baritone voice gives life to Gioia's
thoughtful poetry in lines such as "I am the
image that darkens your glass/ the shadow
that falls wherever you pass ?I am the bell
that tolls out the hours/ I am the fire that
warms and devours."
And his expressive
eyes convey the angst of his character.
We're equally smitten by the heroine, Ellen
Hunter. In this role, San Francisco soprano
Susan Gundunas shows both heart and soul,
displaying a gorgeous range, perfect pitch
and expressive stage presence.
and her pursuer hit their marks right on and
their "surrender scene" near the end is
breathtaking, with music and lyrics so
moving as to bring a tear.
earnest husband, Eric, Robert McPherson
contributes a lilting tenor, and baritone
Jan Michael Kliewer as Dr. Harding offers
sound support to the conflict implicit in
the story ?the difficulty of knowing the
world of the physical but being unaware of
Karen Carle is just
right as Ellen's concerned sister, Marthe.
Her rich mezzo soprano voice is a perfect
pairing with Gundunas.
Dennis Rupp as the
count's rascally business associate Skuller
has power and persuasion in his polished
bass and sneaky tactics.
Chorus master Ed
Harris has no lines but is a steady presence
as the servant.
Truly, there's no weak
link in this able assemblage of world-class
New York director Charles Maryan
directs the production with a sensitivity to
the tension, conveying the vampire story as
one we love to fear but fear to love. In
stylish but never campy dressing of the
stage, he also pays homage to the 1922
silent vampire film that inspired the Gioia-Henderson
The neo-romantic Henderson
score is enhanced by Rebecca Hoffman's
elegant costume design to pay accurate
tribute to the period of Wisborg in the
Dan Allers' set design
is appropriately dark and moody, enriched by
muted lighting. The set changes are for the
most part fluid, taking us from a Baltic
counting to the Hutters' parlor, to the
ominous dark docks of a Hungarian village,
the count's eerie castle and Ellen's fateful
The parlor in Act I could use
some invention and seems pale when compared
to the other sets.
Maestra Barbara Day
Turner's deft and steady hand in the pit
keeps us and the singers and players on
The strings are superb,
woodwinds and horns unerring, and as with
the voices, there are instrumental weak
What better way to usher in
autumn, the season of falling leaves, full
moons and Halloween, than with "Nosferatu."
Throw on your dark cloak and don't miss this
CHRISTENE MEYERS Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Saturday, October 23,
2004 11:00 pm
It was time
to gild the lily, as poet Dana Gioia charmed
200 lovers of language at Cisel Hall at
Montana State University-Billings with his
award winning words Saturday night.
head of the National Endowment for the Arts
spun a colorful cloak of poems during a
Billings visit to celebrate the world
premiere of the opera "Nosferatu," for which
he wrote the libretto. The work was greeted
with cheers, bravos and a standing ovation
Friday night at the Alberta Bair Theater.
In the time-honored tradition of troupers,
Gioia agreed to a Writer's Voice request to
read from his three books and was introduced
by Voice director Corby Skinner.
who cares about words displayed his humor
and intelligence at every turn, confiding
that his "identity as a poet is becoming
rather vague" in his mind, occupied as it is
by the duties of a government post.
expressive eyes and hands to enhance his
silken voice, Gioia read, naturally, from "Nosferatu"
as well as his books of poetry - "Daily
Horoscope," "The Gods of Winter" and
"Interrogations at Noon."
muse of Alfred Lord Tennyson, W.H. Auden,
Robert Frost and Donald Justice, Gioia
showed himself to be a poet's poet. He makes
brilliant use of all the tools of the
elusive trade, employing rhyme, meter and
metaphor to give meaning to life's great and
His reading began and
ended with a short, provocative poem,
"Unsaid," with its simple yet complex truth:
"so much of what we live goes on inside."
The process of poetry, he believes, involves
following an impulse to its end.
"Flowers," with its elegant use of rhyme,
the beauty of the bouquet is undercut by a
young couple's confusion over its unknown
sender. The flowers wilt and fade, but
suspicion and mistrust blossom.
"Words," a philosophical poem, the poet
considers both the futility and necessity of
writing about the ephemeral in nature.
"Cruising With the Beach Boys," Gioia takes
a trip down memory lane to the days of hot
cars and cold romance. Here we see a
contemplative and wistful guy who didn't get
the girl, "the Cecil B. DeMille of my
The evening's most moving
poem was an elegy to a 4-month-old son who
died of SIDS. In a Californian's adaptation
of the Sicilian tradition of burying part of
the umbilical cord under a tree, Gioia and
his brothers plant the remains beneath a
sequoia. The rainy-day act gives immortality
to the dead child and confirms our return to
A mock elegy to Parisian
surrealists and others of the avant garde,
combines ironical asides with a Maurice
Chevalier accent. It emerges as a clever
spin on the daring antics of Picasso, Dali,
Apollonaire and others of this remarkable
A nature homage, "The Apple
Orchard," has an old-fashioned power and
again displays the writer's command of
poetic technique. We smell the blossoms and
feel their fleeting nature.
reading of the vampire's nocturne from "Nosferatu"
left the audience spellbound: "I am the
hunger that you have denied, the ache of
desire piercing your side."
It is obvious
that Gioia is enjoying being a poet again -
if only for a weekend. And, thankfully for
all of us, his poet's passion and sensitive
soul inform his day job in Washington.
accomplished translator and versatile
linguist, Gioia spends time beating the drum
for Shakespeare in small towns and in
general, for literacy, one of his pet NEA
projects. He said that in 1982 nearly 57
percent of adult Americans read literature -
novels, fiction, plays and poetry - on a
regular basis. That figure has dropped
alarmingly, to just over 46 percent, "a loss
of 20 million potential readers," Gioia
But Gioia is hopeful. And with a
national election around the corner, he
makes a connection between literary reading
and civic participation.
"People who read
are people who are deeply concerned about
staying informed, staying alert, staying
alive," he said. "I mean alive in a
spiritual and mental sense. They care about
the world, take charge of their lives, are
concerned about issues."
television, video games, Internet activity
and other passive trends increase, Gioia
believes reading forces people to think. He
wants to increase education, to "reconnect
the experience of reading with pleasure and
He also wants to
encourage reading as a shared activity,
through book clubs and literary circles.
And he asks that Americans urge their
newspapers to increase books and arts
coverage, rather than cutting back in those
"The media barely
recognizes the existence of literature and
the other arts. Yet the media is one of the
ways by which Americans know themselves," he
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