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Shakespeare, Duly Noted

mcdonnell1aAlthough William Shakespeare wrote more than 40 plays, so far as we know, none were musicals.  That hasn't prevented composers from trying to correct that, however, and through the centuries, scores of ballets, musicals and even rock tunes have riffed off the themes of the Great Bard.  In the area of opera alone more than 200 works - from Giuseppe Verdi to Cole Porter - have been composed based on the works of William Shakespeare.

Dr. Timothy McDonnell (right), professor of music at Ave Maria University, continues that tradition by giving his own original twist to Shakespeare with a new work he will conduct Saturday evening, March 27, at Ave Maria University's Festival of the Arts. Shakespeare in Tune consists of dramatized excerpts from four Shakespearian plays that incorporate operatic arias into the dramatic action, including works from Mozart, Puccini and Gounod.

intune1a"We will be presenting scenes from Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Much Ado About Nothing - two comedies and two tragedies," Dr. McDonnell explains.  As to his decision to entwine drama with arias from various operatic sources, he says, "The fusion of music and drama with classical English theater is a natural one.  All the intensity and genius of Shakespeare's monumental work are mirrored in the great operatic tradition."

The end result, he says, is entertainment "more in the tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan."

While some of the arias chosen come from operas specifically based on Shakespeare - like Romeo et Juliette by 19th-century French composer Charles-François Gounod - in others, Dr. McDonnell says, "the borrowings are more remote and are based on the theatrical affinity between the mood or attitude of the aria and the plot-driven situations the Shakespearean characters find themselves in. (AMU Freshman Vanessa Tompkins, left, is one of the singers for Shakespeare in Tune)

 "For example, when Capulet tells Juliet that she must marry Paris against her heart's desire, she sings the well-known O mio babbino caro, a song originally sung by Lauretta (in Puccini's opera Gianni Schicchi), another love-struck character whose father forbids her chosen love."

 "By far, the composer most represented in our borrowings is Mozart," he adds.

Twenty-two students take part in the performance.  The music is performed by students in the university's music program, including eight different singers.

 McDonnell says he is not aware of any previous Shakespeare performances exactly like this, which he says anyone can appreciate - even those not highly familiar with either the plays or opera.

The event is one of the major fundraisers for the university and benefits students as well as the fine arts program at the school. It gets under way at 5 p.m. for a social hour, with dinner and the dramatic/musical performance following. Tickets are $50 each and must be purchased in advance by calling 239-280-2420. 

 The Festival  of the Arts continues Sunday and includes an International Children's Art Exhibit, with more than 200 pieces of art from around the world; international dance; music; a ballet performance; showings of students' films; and a poetry reading. All are welcome and there is no charge for any of the events on Sunday.


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