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Curtis Institute presents Wozzeck starring Shuler Hensley

Shuler Hensley, a 1993 graduate of Philadelphia’s internationally renowned Curtis Institute of Music, returns to Philadelphia to star in the title role of Curtis’s annual opera production – Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, the expressionist tragedy first performed in Berlin in 1925.  The performances on March 13, 15, and 18 in the Perelman Theater of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts represent the first time Wozzeck will have been fully staged in Philadelphia since the 1931 U.S. premiere of the work, which was conducted by Leopold Stokowski and funded by the founder of the Curtis Institute.  The new production is conducted by Corrado Rovaris, music director of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and directed by Emma Griffin.  Jason Collins, another Curtis opera alum who won the 2007 Richard Rucker Career Grant, will portray Wozzeck’s nemesis, the Drum Major, with scenery by David Zinn, costume design by Jessica Trejos, and lighting design by Mark Barton.  Performances are in the original German with English supertitles.  Tickets for Wozzeck are available from Ticket Philadelphia at or (215) 893-1999.

Shuler Hensley, a baritone, has gone on from the Curtis Institute’s superb opera program to stardom on Broadway (Oklahoma!, Young Frankenstein), and returns to Curtis to fill the dramatically riveting and vocally demanding role of the brooding, poverty-stricken soldier Wozzeck.  This is the first time that the Curtis Opera Theatre has invited alumni to perform as lead artists alongside students.  The New York Times called Hensley’s portrayal of Jud Fry, the homicidal farmhand in Oklahoma!, “riveting,” and continued: “This Jud is such a completely and complexly realized character that he threatens to become the show’s center.”

In 2008, the critically acclaimed, sold-out Philadelphia premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar established an innovative cooperative venture between the Curtis Institute of Music, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and Kimmel Center Presents.  Continued with Wozzeck, the initiative combines a Curtis Opera Theatre production with marketing support from the Opera Company and an ideal venue in the Kimmel Center.  Next March, the same organizations will produce Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra to honor the centenary of the composer, a Curtis graduate.

Completed in 1922 and premiered in 1925, Wozzeck has become a staple of the international operatic repertoire.  Dramatically and musically intense, the 90-minute score employs a highly individual transformation of the twelve-tone compositional technique that Berg absorbed from his mentor, Arnold Schoenberg.  Berg fashioned his own libretto for Wozzeck, drawing on Woyzek, Georg Büchner’s unfinished early 19th-century play that has served as fertile ground for several other artistic creations.  Berg’s emotionally gripping musical style – enlivened by marches, dance music, and unusual orchestral colors – is uniquely suited to the tale of the brooding soldier, who is plagued by poverty and by jealousy over the infidelity of his lover, Marie, with whom he has a child.

The Curtis Opera Theatre’s production represents the first fully staged performances of the opera in Philadelphia since the American premiere on March 19, 1931. On that occasion Leopold Stokowski conducted 116 members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with 25 Curtis students supplying stage music in two scenes and four vocal students appearing in the cast.  Curtis’s founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, partially funded the production with a $40,000 gift.

Shuler Hensley came to international attention as a singing actor through his critically acclaimed portrayal of Jud Fry in the Trevor Nunn revival of Oklahoma!, a performance that won him the Olivier Award in London and Broadway’s Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards.  He recently appeared as the Monster in Young Frankenstein on Broadway, where he has also appeared in Tarzan and Les Misérables.  Jason Collins recently made his debuts with the San Francisco Opera as Froh in Das Rheingold and the Canadian Opera Company as Comte de Lerme in Don Carlos, and this season made at his debut with Michigan Opera Theatre in Margaret Garner.  His Curtis Opera Theatre productions included The Rake’s Progress, L’incoronazione di Poppea, Vanessa, and Les noces.  After earning degrees from the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music, he trained at the Pittsburgh Opera Center. 

Corrado Rovaris made his Opera Company of Philadelphia debut in 1999, leading The Marriage of Figaro, and his Curtis Symphony Orchestra debut with last season’s Ainadamar.  He was appointed OCP’s first music director in 2004.  A native of Bergamo, Italy, and a graduate of Milan’s Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, he is a frequent guest conductor in Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Japan, and the U.S.  Rovaris leads Gianni Schicchi and L’enfant et les sortilèges with the Opera Company in April and May, and three of next season’s OCP productions.

The Curtis Institute of Music educates and trains exceptionally gifted young musicians for careers as performing artists on the highest professional level.  One of the world’s leading music schools, Curtis provides full-tuition scholarships to all of its 162 students, ensuring that admissions are based solely on artistic promise.  A Curtis education is uniquely tailored to the individual student, with personalized attention from a celebrated faculty and unusually frequent performance opportunities.  The Curtis Opera Theatre, under the artistic direction of Mikael Eliasen, is the performing entity of the Curtis Vocal Studies Department, with approximately 25 singers between the ages of 17 and 28.  In addition to Wozzeck, the Curtis Opera Theatre performs four fully staged operas in 2008-09: Don Giovanni, The Medium, Impressions of Pelléas, and Il viaggio a Reims.  Curtis vocal studies graduates have sung with opera companies all over the world, at La Scala, Covent Garden, the Vienna State Opera, Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera.  Several recent graduates are on the current Met roster, including leading tenors Juan Diego Flórez and Michael Schade, bass-baritones Eric Owens and John Relyea, and contralto Meredith Arwady.

The Curtis Opera Theatre: Wozzeck by Alban Berg

Presented by Kimmel Center Presents in association with the Opera Company of Philadelphia.  Corrado Rovaris, conductor; Emma Griffin, stage director; David Zinn, scenic design; Jessica Trejos, costume design; Mark Barton, lighting design

Friday, March 13 at 8 pm

Sunday, March 15 at 2:30 pm

Wednesday, March 18 at 7:30 pm

Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

A fully staged production with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, sung in the original German with English supertitles.  Single tickets: $15, $40, $65, $95, and $130 from Ticket Philadelphia at (215) 893-1999 or online at


Wozzeck               Shuler Hensley, visiting artist (Opera ’93)

The Drum Major     Jason Collins, visiting artist (Opera ’03)

Andres                  Jason Coffey

The Captain           Joshua Stewart

The Doctor            Evan Boyer

Apprentices          Joseph Barron, Adrian Kramer

The Fool                Diego Silva

Marie                     Charlotte Dobbs

Margret                  Tammy Coil

Marie’s son            Peter Momjian, guest artist

Soldiers                 Allen Boxer, Brandon Cedel, Evan Hughes, Elliot Madore, Kevin Ray, Thomas Shivone

Women                  Kirsten MacKinnon, Amanda Majeski, Marquita Raley, Elizabeth Reiter, Shir Rozzen, Sarah Shafer, Ashley Thouret

– March 2, 2009

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