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Music School Presents World Premiere of 'The Vaudevillian'

Vaudvillian promo

Oklahoma City University will present the world premiere of Thomas Pasatieri’s opera, “The Vaudevillian,” inspired by the real-life rise and fall of American diva Rosa Ponselle from Feb. 16 to 18.

“This is a great backstage backstory, an operatic melodrama, a true American tale of triumph, loss and reinvention,” said David Herendeen, who will direct a cast of 18. The 37-piece opera orchestra is led by Jan McDaniel.

The music and libretto were written by Pasatieri, whose family were long-time friends with Ponselle.

“He is one of the great composers you don’t know that you already know,” Herendeen said. The creator of two dozen operas, Pasatieri has orchestrated soundtracks for movies including “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Legends of the Fall,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Scent of a Woman.”

Pasatieri grew up knowing the story of Ponselle, a daughter of Italian immigrants who played piano for silent movie screenings and sang when the projectionist changed reels. She and her sister toured the vaudeville circuit before auditioning for Enrico Caruso, who recommended her to the manager of the Metropolitan Opera.

Ponselle made her operatic debut on Nov. 15, 1918, four days after the end of World War I, performing as Verdi heroine Leonara opposite Caruso. She had little operatic knowledge or training and the Met role marked her first time before an opera audience. She was 21 years old.

“The Vaudevilian” chronicles her 19 seasons at the Met and the decades that followed. Upon her death at the age of 84, The New York Times declared her “indisputably one of the greatest operatic talents this country has ever produced.”

Oklahoma City University’s 66th season of opera and music theater continues with Bedřich Smetana’s operatic comedy “The Bartered Bride“ March 2-4; followed by Leonard Bernstein’s, “On the Town,“ on April 20-22, as part of the celebration of the centennial of his birth. An opening-night dinner themed to the show will be held in the Bass Music Center beginning at 6:15 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling 405-208-5227 or online at www.okcu.edu/tickets.