Opera Dives Deep

This lecture series provides audiences with fresh insights from regional scholars and industry professionals to enrich appreciation and understanding of the operas in our season. Both established operagoers and curious newcomers alike are sure to make discoveries.

Opera Dives Deep is held at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center, Brookside Room, 4801 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, MO 64110.

Stay tuned for information about Opera Dives Deep lectures for the 2024–2025 season.

Previous talks

Monuments of Tone and Stone

Dr. Ron Witzke, speaker

  • Monday, April 29, 2024, 7:00 pm-8:00 pm

Our Journey to Valhalla will explore two cultural monuments from two eras—one in tone and one in stone: Der Ring des Nibelungen and Mount Rushmore, the so-called “Shrine of Democracy”. At the conclusion of the evening, attendees will better understand how monumental artifacts inspire and influence cultural identities.

Ron Witzke has been a member of the voice faculty at William Jewell College since 1984 and now holds the title of Emeritus Professor of Music. He earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Southern Nazarene University (1978), and graduate degrees in music from the University of Texas at Austin (M.M.), from Indiana University (D.M.A.), and a Certificate in Theology, Arts, and Culture from Fuller Seminary.

Witzke has premiered three works by William Jewell College faculty members. Anthony Maglione’s Mystic Trumpeter was recorded on the Naxos label, and his The Wedding of Solomon was performed during the July 2018 National AGO convention. In May of 2019 he soloed in Ian Coleman’s Negro Spiritual cycle, which included texts based on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Langston Hughes. In the 2021–2022 academic year, Witzke joined the graduate students of William Jewell’s new Artist Diploma program in their productions of The Trial of Elizabeth Cree by Kevin Puts and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Recently, Witzke joined local singers in the premiere of Mother Noah by Kansas City composer Dale Ramsey. Witzke is on the chorus roster of Lyric Opera of Kansas City, as well as a member of Kansas City’s choral ensemble, Cardinalis, founded and conducted by Anthony Maglione.

Recently, Witzke has devoted his attention to writing libretti/texts for choral works. In February 2020, the Dallas, TX choral ensemble Verdigris premiered Dust Bowl, a cantata with music by Anthony Maglione. Witzke compiled primary source materials and wrote original poetry for the libretto, fashioning it into a multimovement work. Dust Bowl will be reprised by Verdigris in 2024, with a commercial recording to follow.

His interest in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle has grown over the years, after attending Chicago’s cycle in 2005. He then developed and taught several undergraduate courses on the topic at William Jewell (to mostly non-music majors), which gave him the opportunity to lead two small groups of students to attend full Ring Cycle performances in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. In 2021 Witzke’s article, “Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen – Another Look,” was published in the spring issue of Christian Scholar’s Review.

Taming the Barbarian

Dr. Felicia Londré, speaker

  • Monday, February 26, 2024, 7:00 pm–8:00 pm

France's love-hate attitude toward Shakespeare can be traced back to Voltaire. With the coming of Romanticism, a frenzy of enthusiasm swept away the resistance and led to Hector Berlioz's 1839 Roméo et Juliette. The Second Empire brought new doubts about Shakespeare's “barbaric” qualities. This is the context for Gounod's 1867 Roméo et Juliette.

Felicia Hardison Londré, Curators' Distinguished Professor Emerita, taught theatre history at University of Missouri-Kansas City for 44 years and supervised 90 M.A. theses. She specializes in French and Russian theatre as well as Shakespeare production history. In 1993 she was Honorary Co-Founder of Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. In May this year she presented a paper in Dijon on the musical compositions of James Reese Europe. She is currently working on an article on Love's Labour's Lost in France.

Other highlights for Dr. Londré include: dramaturg for Missouri Repertory Theatre (1978–2000), a term as Dean of The College of Fellows of the American Theatre at the Kennedy Center (2012–2014), and president of the nonprofit KC MOlière: 400 in 2022 (2019–2022). Publications comprise 17 books, over 60 scholarly articles, hundreds of reviews and journalistic pieces. Her 2007 book The Enchanted Years of the Stage: Kansas City at the Crossroads of American Theater, 1870-1930 won the Theatre Library Association’s George Freedley Memorial Award.

Romeo and Juliet from Page to Stage

Sidonie Garrett, speaker

  • Monday, March 4, 2024, 7:00 pm–8:00 pm

Take a peek behind the scenes and hear from stage director Sidonie Garrett how the story of Romeo and Juliet gets told on a big stage. This 400-year-old story is half rom-com and half tragedy. “What if” no one in the story died? Explore all the decisions and moments as a storyteller does and learn about bringing this classic story to life.

Sidonie Garrett is the Executive Artistic Director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival (HASF) where she most recently directed The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare in Love; the previous five season’s productions: Much Ado About Nothing, The Winter’s Tale, King Lear, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet—all awarded Best Play in Pitch Magazine’s BEST OF KC; and 15 other Shakespeare plays.

Her experience working with new plays led her to direct the off-Broadway production of Thanatos. Sidonie also assistant directed the off-Broadway premiere of the interactive Aunt Chooch’s Birthday Party. Locally, at the Unicorn Theatre she directed The Sound Inside, Tiny Beautiful Things, The Effect, Disgraced, How to Use a Knife, The Whale, I’ll Eat You Last, Other Desert Cities, The Motherf**ker With the Hat, Time Stands Still, In the Next Room: The Vibrator Play, Faith Healer, Rising Water, Iron Kisses, Retreat from Moscow, Omnium Gatherum, the world premiere of Thanatos, SubUrbia, The Waiting Room, Desert Holiday, Spinning Into Butter, SantaLand Diaries and co-directed Light/Damage. Sidonie directed A Streetcar Named Desire and ‘Night Mother for Kansas City Actors Theatre. At the Coterie Theatre she directed The Macbeth Project: In Spite of Thunder, the U.S. premiere of After Juliet, Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays, Little House on the Prairie, Little House by the Shores of Silver Lake, Of Mice and Men, Playing for Time, and co-directed Only One Day a Year and The Hobbit. Sidonie co-directed Tony & Tina's Wedding (Kansas City and St. Louis) for Fourth Wall Productions. She directed The African Company Presents with the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City, Eleemosynary and Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Fishtank Theatre and script-in-hand readings including The Beard of Avon and The Women, with KC Actors Theatre and The Tempest for JCCC’s Performing Arts Series. She co-created and directed Play On! A Collaboration of Music and Words, The Marriage of True Minds,and Women of Note in Words and Song with the Bach Aria Soloists.

In 2020, she co-directed and produced two streaming productions—Shakespeare at Home and William Shakespeare’s Christmas Carol— in addition to two live outdoor performances of Shakespeare’s scenes Yard Bards and ShakesFEAR! She directed a filmed version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for JCCC’s Performing Arts Series and Show-Me Shakespeare as well as three live events in summer 2021 in Southmoreland Park, titled Shakespearience. For HASF, she has directed collaborations with the Bach Aria Soloists, the Kansas City Chorale, Kansas City Ballet, Kansas City Symphony, JCCC’s Performing Arts Series, Kansas City Actors Theatre, KC Rep, the Kansas City Museum, and many other partners. Sidonie has been with HASF for 21 years as Artistic Director. In addition to her directing work, she serves on the Board of the Midwest Dramatists Center and is one of the founders of the Kansas City Theatre Alliance. In fall and winter 2023-24, Sidonie will direct Macbitches at the Unicorn Theatre, Women of Note in Word and Song with the Bach Aria Soloists for the Midwest Trust Center, and ShakesFEAR! for HASF.

Evolution of a Classic American Musical

George Harter, speaker

Examine thoroughly the final musical crafted by the duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the innovators behind the formula for the modern musical, showcased in their significant creations: Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I, and Flower Drum Song.

George Harter is the founder of Music Theater Heritage in Kansas City. A musical theater historian, he was host and producer of the nationally syndicated A Night on the Town radio series for 18 years. Now retired, George plans and guides theater trips to New York and London, listed at anightonthetown.org.

Notes of Virtue

Grace Odell, speaker

Get ready to dive into the fascinating world of the Trapp Family Singers and the musical they inspired! In this talk, we'll explore how the famously Austrian family and story of The Sound of Music embody a quintessential American value: the virtuous power of music. Together we’ll uncover the Trapp family's musical odyssey and how the widely loved musical's message aligns with their emphasis on family and virtue.

A pianist, musicologist, educator, and writer from South Carolina, Grace Odell has master’s degrees from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory in both piano performance and musicology. Prior to moving to Kansas City, Grace received a bachelor's degree in piano performance from Furman University. Grace is the program director at Base Academy of Music, a non-profit music organization who makes starting to learn a musical instrument accessible and affordable for Kansas City’s urban youth, because music education is a reason and means to succeed. In 2020, frustrated with classical music’s focus on perfectionism and hierarchy, she created Resonate, an online subscription that teaches improvisation and individual creativity at the piano through meditation and exploration.

Rodgers and Hammerstein and The Sound of Music

Dr. Paul Laird, speaker

Paul Laird’s lecture on Rodgers and Hammerstein for the Opera Deep Dives series will include overviews of each man’s work before they started to collaborate in 1943; their joint work on nine shows and two other projects; and their five most important shows that remain in the active repertory. He will also place The Sound of Music into the contexts of their work and the history of musical theater.

Paul Laird is Professor of Musicology at The University of Kansas, where he has taught since 1994. He teaches classes on Broadway musicals, American music, twentieth-century music, Baroque music, performance practice, and directs the Instrumental Collegium Musicum. In 2021 he won the Chancellor’s Club Career Teaching Award. Laird’s research specialties include the American musical theater, the music and works of Leonard Bernstein, the Spanish villancico, and early string instruments. He has published widely on these topics, his most recent books including West Side Story, Gypsy, and the Art of Broadway Orchestration (Routledge, 2022) and (co-written with Gonzalo Fernández Monte) West Side Story in Spain: The Transcultural Adaptation of an Iconic American Show (Cambridge University Press, 2022). With William A. Everett, Laird co-edited three editions of The Cambridge Companion to the Musical, and he has published dozens of articles and chapters in journals, books, and other edited collections. He has lectured at many conferences and universities in the United States, Canada, Ecuador, and various European countries. Laird frequently presents enthusiastic, informed pre-performance lectures for concerts and shows in the Kansas City area and teaches regularly for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at The University of Kansas. He has spoken often on the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein in both college classrooms and for Osher classes and looks forward to speaking about this important team’s work for Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s Opera Deep Dives series.

Verismo's Creative Deceptions

Dr. Jane Sylvester, speaker

Verismo's Creative Deceptions: The Fictions of the Italian South in Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci

Verismo, or Italian realism, was a late nineteenth century movement in Italy inspired by presenting “life as it is.” This talk explores the stories and music of both Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, and will allow us to question how—and why—practitioners of opera have transformed stories into artistic realities.

Dr. Jane Sylvester’s work centers on studies of material and scientific cultures, embodiment, gender, and politics within nineteenth- and twentieth-century Italian opera. Jane’s current book project explores the intersections between verismo opera and histories of science in post-unification Italy, and her most recent research explores contemporary operatic revivals through performance collaboration and haute couture fashion design in Rome. She completed her Master’s Degree and Ph.D. in Musicology at the Eastman School of Music in 2021, and also holds Bachelor’s Degrees in Music Education and Saxophone Performance from Michigan State University.

Jane’s article, “Dramatised Deviancy: ‘Tosca’ at the Dawn of Criminal Anthropology” was published with the Cambridge Opera Journal in 2022 and her piece, “Puccini’s Material Girls: Tensions of the Spiritual Body in ‘Le Villi’” is in press with Opera Quarterly. Most recently, she contributed a chapter about Italian operatic criticism at the turn of the twentieth century, which is forthcoming in Puccini in Context (edited by Alexandra Wilson) with Cambridge University Press.

Her research has been supported by external fellowships and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Musicological Society, and the Presser Foundation, among others. Her ongoing research throughout Italy has also been supported by University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Funding for Excellence Award and an Early Career Faculty Award from the UMKC Emeritus College Endowment Fund. She has presented her research nationally and internationally at numerous meetings of the American Musicological Society, the Transnational Opera Studies Conference, and the North American and International Conferences on Nineteenth-Century Music.

At UMKC, Jane has taught both semesters of the undergraduate music history survey, graduate courses in research and bibliography in music, and has designed and offered graduate courses on the history of opera, the Romantic and Classical eras, and music and the supernatural.

Committed to engaging with public audiences, Jane has previously worked with Lyric Opera of Kansas City as a Pre-Opera Talk Artist (Carmen, 2022–2023) as well as a lecturer for their Opera Dives Deep series (La traviata, 2022–2023). She has also collaborated with Michigan Opera Theatre to compose a multimedia article about Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana for its 2021–2022 season, and with the Amics del Liceu of Barcelona (Gran Teatre del Liceu) for their 2022–2023 season production of Tosca.