The Catholic University of America

Feb. 12, 2008

Catholic University President's Festival of the Arts
Presents Wilder and Wilder (Thornton, that is…)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music presents alternating performances of Thornton Wilder's Our Town and the Washington, D.C., premiere of composer Ned Rorem's opera version of the play as the highlight of Wilder and Wilder (Thornton, that is…) - a festival celebrating the work of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

Catholic University President's Festival of the Arts Presents Wilder and Wilder (Thornton, that is…) will be held Feb. 25-March 2. The festival will also feature films, lectures and discussions that will explore Wilder's legacy and the process of transforming the classic play Our Town into an opera.

The festival will showcase the premiere of two "mini-operas" based upon short plays by Wilder, as well as fully staged productions of four short plays with new incidental music, all composed by Catholic University students and faculty These performances will feature directors and actors from the Department of Drama and singers and instrumentalists from the music school.

The operas and music were composed under the guidance of Andrew Earle Simpson, associate professor of music and chair of composition programs. The productions will be conducted by David Searle, director of orchestral activities and conducting studies.

The opera, featuring students from the CUA's opera studio as well as the Catholic University Symphony Orchestra, will be presented Thursday, Feb. 28, and Saturday, March 1. Murry Sidlin, dean of music, will conduct; James Hampton will direct.

Grayson Wagstaff, CUA musicologist and associate professor, with the assistance of Andrew H. Weaver, CUA musicologist and assistant professor, is coordinating the lectures, films and roundtable discussion centered around Wilder and his works.

Our Town, the play, will be performed by musical theater students and directed by Mary Hall Surface on Friday, Feb. 29, and Sunday, March 2.

All performances will be presented at Hartke Theatre, located on the CUA campus, 620 Michigan Ave., N.E. The performances will be at 7:30 p.m. except for Sunday, March 2, at 2 p.m. Directions/map are available at:

During his lifetime, Wilder turned down both Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein when they asked to transform Our Town into an opera. A year ago, the operatic version of the play premiered at Indiana University Opera Theater, with music by Rorem, "the world's best composer of art songs," according to Time magazine, and libretto by J.D. "Sandy" McClatchy.

The festival will open on Monday, Feb. 25, with a lecture at 4:10 p.m. by Tappan Wilder on "Our Town in the 21st Century," in Ward Hall, John Paul Hall, at Catholic University. At the lecture, Lincoln Konkle, Wilder scholar and professor of English at The College of New Jersey, will also talk about the path the play has taken as it became an opera. A t 7:30 p.m., on Feb. 25, a screening of the 1940 film "Our Town" will be offered in Aquinas Hall Auditorium.

On Wednesday, Feb. 27, a roundtable discussion will be held at 7:30 p.m. featuring Rorem and McClatchy discussing the process of transforming Wilder's classic play into an opera. Following the discussion will be premieres of two "mini-operas:" Brother Fire and Mozart and the Gray Steward, short plays by Wilder that have been set to music. Four short plays will also premiere with new incidental music by CUA composers - Mozart and the Gray Steward, The Penny that Beauty Spent, Centaurs and Brother Fire.

The performances of Our Town - perhaps the quintessential American drama - will cap off the festival. The boy meets girl story of Our Town takes place in the small town of Grover's Corner, N.H., in the early 20th century. The play explores the lives of George Gibbs and Emily Webb as they go from childhood friends, through love and marriage, and deal with life and death.

Senior Sarah Beth Pfeiffer is cast in the role of the Stage Manager in the play, with sophomore Matthew Wojtal and freshman Emily Grace Woodhouse playing George and Emily. Graduate student Eric Gramatges will play the part of the Stage Manager in the opera, with graduate students John Murry and Diana Bryan playing George and Emily.

An award-winning conductor, Sidlin has produced Aaron Copland's America, a tribute to the American composer, and Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin as CUA festivals in previous years. Sidlin, who conducts regularly throughout the year, once again delighted a National Symphony Orchestra audience during his 13th annual New Year's Eve Concert last year at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

TICKETS: The films, lectures and discussions are free; tickets for Our Town are $20 for general admission and $10 for students, seniors, faculty and staff. For tickets or more information, call 202-319-5416.

MEDIA: The media is welcome to cover any of the festival events. Contact Mary McCarthy or Katie Lee in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600 to arrange for advance interviews or to secure media passes to the films, lectures or performances.

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The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music is the only university music school in the Washington, D.C., area. The music school offers both undergraduate and graduate programs of study in performance of instrumental music (including chamber music and orchestral studies), piano, voice (including choral music and opera), composition and theory, musicology, conducting, musical theater, music education, and voice and piano pedagogy. Newer programs include the Institute of Sacred Music, and an emphasis within the composition program of composing for the theater. The music school designs programs and curricula that inspire young musicians to be imaginative in developing audiences, in providing musical service throughout communities, and in connecting with the evolution of American arts institutions. The music school, through its Studio X sessions, regularly presents major performers, renowned composers, music technologists, critics and arts administrators who lecture and work with students.

The Catholic University of America, an institution of higher learning in Washington, D.C., is unique as the national university of the Catholic Church in America. Founded in 1887 and chartered by Congress, the university opened as a graduate and research institution. Undergraduate programs were introduced in 1904. Today the private and coeducational campus has approximately 6,400 undergraduate and graduate students from all states and 99 countries enrolled in 12 schools of architecture and planning, arts and sciences, canon law, engineering, law, library and information science, music, nursing, philosophy, social service, theology and religious studies, and Metropolitan College.