The University of Iowa

UI Professor Gives Lecture on ‘American Opera’

December 15th, 2010

The Opera Studies Forum is part of UI International Programs.

By Alyssa Marie Harn, The Daily Iowan

A woman takes the stage dressed in leather boots, a button-up blouse, and a cowgirl hat, riding a live horse. Staples of the Wild West surround Minnie, the cowgirl, as she rides around the stage and belts out her Italian lyrics in the opera La Fanciulla del West.

“The whole concept of this opera is a little off the wall,” said Kim Marra, a University of Iowa theater and American studies professor. “It’s a rather incongruous yet somehow fitting combination of grand opera and the Western … singing to Puccini’s music in Italian.”

Marra will present a lecture on Giacomo Puccini’s opera at 5:30 p.m. today in 2520D University Capitol Centre. Admission is free.

La Fanciulla del West was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York this month, 100 years after the play’s première on Dec. 10, 1910, and will be performed again in January at the Met. That live opera performance will be broadcast at the Sycamore Cinema 12 on Jan. 8, 2011.

This event is one of six lectures that are part of the Metropolitan Opera live in HD lecture series organized by the Opera Studies Forum. The lecture series is meant to provide audiences with background information about the operas before they view the shows.

During her lecture, Marra will employ a slide show to display photos from the original opera production as well as pictures from more recent performances.

Corey Creekmur, a UI associate professor of cinema/comparative literature who specializes in Western films and gender representations, said Marra’s lecture will be more of a theatrical performance staged like an opera rather than a traditional lecture.

“My talk is meant to generate interest and prepare viewers for seeing at the opera,” Marra said. “I hope the audience gets some background information on why this opera was written, especially Puccini’s curious attraction to the plays of David Belasco … and Belasco’s strange relationships with actresses that informed the content and structure of these plays and made them suitable for operas.”

Sometimes referred to as Puccini’s American Opera, La Fanciulla del West is based on Belasco’s play The Girl of the Golden West and tells the action-packed love story of a cowgirl named Minnie and her dealings with gold miners in the American West.

Creekmur said the story has an interesting history because it has been told in various media, including a play, a novel, in film, in addition to the opera.

“It will be helpful to know some of the background history of La Fanciulla del West, because its transformation from Belasco’s play The Girl of the Golden West to Puccini’s opera is itself an unusual story,” Creekmur said.

Creekmur and Marra agreed that the opera is quite unusual because of its American frontier setting, which is not often seen in opera culture. Marra said the intriguing location of this opera may attract Western fans to attend the viewing.

Marra said she is glad the Sycamore cinema is offering these broadcasts because they provide the audience with a sense of what a live opera is like.

“Being able to see these operas at the Sycamore theater is a wonderful experience,” she said. “You get to see them on a big screen with really high-quality sound, and the action feels very close and larger than life, like opera itself.”