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Guest Conductor Benton Hess Brings Out the Voice of the RPO

October 30, 2008

Guest Soprano Featured in Selections with Diverse Operatic Styles

Rochester, NY – One of Rochester’s favorite opera directors, Benton Hess, will show off his vocal conducting gifts as next month’s guest conductor on the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s Symphony 101 series.  On Friday, November 21 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, November 23 at 3:00 pm (this year’s new Sunday time and venue), both at the Performance Hall at Hochstein, Hess conducts contrasting musical selections from operas by Rossini and Bellini (Italian), Weber (German), and Boieldieu (French), written between 1816-1826, and taking very different musical directions.  Guest soprano Kathryn Louise Lewek will be featured in the Weber and Bellini works.

Rossini’s much-loved comic opera The Barber of Seville was first performed in 1816, but its popularity has continued not only through performances and recordings, but also parodied in numerous animated cartoons and films.  In the classic opera, Rossini uses Figaro – the town barber and general busybody – to bring together two ill-fated lovers by masterminding a complicated elopement using a series of ruses, disguises, and surprise reveals. 

In 1821, a very different opera was premiering: Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz.  Loosely translated as “The Marksman,” the plot is based on a German folk legend claiming that magic bullets may be obtained by selling one’s soul to the Demon Hunter.  In stark contrast to Rossini’s comic opera, the German Romantic Der Freischütz focuses more on national identity and stark emotionality.  German folk music inspired many of its tunes, and its portrayal of the supernatural was an early forerunner of the mythological plots and characters later employed by Wagner.

La Dame Blanche (The White Lady) was composed by Francois-Adrien Boieldieu in 1825, based on a libretto derived from Sir Walter Scott’s novels.  Although Gothic in story mode, including an exotic Scottish setting, a lost heir, a mysterious castle, a hidden fortune, and a benevolent ghost, the opera features tender, charming melodies.

Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues) is based on a reworking of the Romeo and Juliet story using Renaissance Italian sources rather than Shakespeare.  Bellini wrote the opera for the Carnival season at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice.

Closing the concert is Rossini’s rousing William Tell Overture from the opera of the same name.  Based on Friedrich Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell, the story of a revolutionary rebelling against society, the Overture has been used in the popular media, especially as the familiar theme from the radio and television series The Lone Ranger, and in the Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film A Clockwork Orange.

Benton Hess, Mercury Opera Rochester’s Artistic Director, and the Eastman School of Music’s Distinguished Professor of Voice, and Music Director of Eastman Opera Theater, has built an international reputation as conductor, pianist, composer, and pedagogue.  He has conducted hundreds of performances for dozens of opera companies throughout the world, encompassing musical styles ranging from early Baroque to premiere performances of contemporary works.  Widely acknowledged as one of America’s foremost vocal coaches and accompanists, Mr. Hess’ roster of collaborations includes Nicolai Gedda, Eleanor Steber, and Reneé Fleming.

A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Kathryn Louise Lewek received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in vocal performance, as well as the prestigious Performers Certificate.  She appeared in numerous solo performances both at the school and professionally with the RPO, Rochester Chamber Orchestra, Greece Symphony, and Finger Lakes Choral Festival Orchestra.  For two summers, she toured central Italy singing opera roles by Bellini and Donizetti.  In March 2008, Ms. Lewek was named Grand Prize Winner of the Orpheus National Vocal Competition, and recently completed her first solo album of art songs for Albany Records.  This December, audiences can hear her with the Rochester Chamber Orchestra in Handel’s Messiah.

This season’s Symphony 101 Series focuses on six groundbreaking periods in the history of music when composers of contrasting symphonic styles were writing some of their most influential works at the very same time.  These engaging and innovative 50-minute concerts feature discussion, musical examples, selections from significant works and complete pieces.  Questions from the audience are welcomed following each concert. 

General admission tickets for these performances are $22, available online 24/7 at www.rpo.org, by phone (454-2100) in person from the RPO Box Office, and at area Wegmans.  A convenience fee may apply.  RPO Box Office hours are Monday-Saturday, 10:00 am-5:00 pm (non-concert Saturdays, 10:00 am-3:00 pm). 

The Symphony 101 Series is sponsored by PAETEC Communications, Inc. Additional support for this series is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. RPO performances are made possible in part with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; the State of New York; Monroe County; and the City of Rochester. 

Celebrating its 86th season in 2008-09, the RPO inspires and enriches the community through the art of music, presenting nearly 200 performances each season to a combined audience of an estimated quarter of a million people, including more than 70,000 who experience the RPO’s broad range of educational and community programs.  The Orchestra is passionately dedicated to outstanding musical performance at the highest artistic levels, and has a unique tradition of musical versatility, commitment to music education in the broadest sense and a deep and enduring engagement with the community.  The RPO has been honored with the New York State Governor’s Arts Award and two recent ASCAP awards for adventurous programming. 

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