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Two UI Opera cast members in past performance
    Remarkable collaboration

It takes a lot of hands—and more than a few voices, naturally—to put on an opera. But a few times each year, the University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater brings together singers, instrumentalists, directors, designers, voice coaches, choreographers, costumers, and others to stage both classic and lesser-known works.

Recent productions (some of which are shown above and on the UI home page) include Puccini’s La Bohème, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, and Aaron Copland’s Tender Land. Next up: Viva la Mama! by Gaetano Donizetti, April 4-6 at Clapp Recital Hall.

First performed in Naples, Italy, in 1827, Viva la Mama! offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse—albeit an outrageously comic one—of operatic life. A provincial opera company is rehearsing its would-be masterpiece, plagued by a feuding cast, an obstinate composer, a lovesick prima donna, and the mother of all stage mothers, Mama Agatha (played by a baritone in drag).

Director Stephen Swanson, interim director of the UI Opera Theater, has updated the production’s setting to “a theater near Iowa City, today,” acknowledging that backstage mayhem is universal.

“It’s outlandishly, irresistibly funny,” he says. “Plus, it’s just a great piece for our students. It has some first-class singing opportunities for the cast, particularly the prima donna, and Mama gets to chew up the scenery.”

Fortunately, real operatic life isn’t quite so tumultuous as the stage version. The UI Opera Theater offers valuable, practical experience for students of voice, instrumental music, and theatre in the School of Music and Division of Performing Arts in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Alumni have gone on to perform in some of the world’s leading opera houses, including the Metropolitan in New York and La Scala in Milan.

UI students learn their craft under the practiced guidance of faculty members like Swanson; William LaRue Jones, who directs a chamber orchestra for the current production; vocal coach Shari Rhoads, who did vocal preparation with the cast members; and Margaret Wenk, who designed the sets and costumes. Experienced hands in fields from lighting to costumes to acting to dance also lend their expertise.

The result is a collaborative spectacle, a timeless art form, and a delight for audiences.

Viva La Mama! Tickets
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Division of Performing Arts
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