published Friday, January 27th, 2012

'Treemonisha' opens at UTC


What: "Treemonisha."

When: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: UTC Fine Arts Center, corner of Vine and Palmetto streets

Admission: $20 general admission, $17 senior adults, $14 students, $10 UTC students.

Phone: 425-4269.


Treemonisha: Varanda Bell

Monisha, her mother: Sheila Morris

Ned, her father: Jason Ryan O'Neal

Remus, a friend: Trent Williams

Simon, conjurers' leader: Terrance Washington

Zodzetrick, a conjurer: Jarred B. Clemons

One of the biggest undertakings to be presented on a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga stage will open tonight in the Fine Arts Center.

The UTC Music and the Speech and Theatre departments are collaborating with Chattanooga Choral Society for the Preservation of African American Song to present three performances of Scott Joplin's opera "Treemonisha."

In what director Steve Ray, a UTC professor, calls a "serendipitous" coincidence, tonight's opening falls on the 40th anniversary of the premiere of "Treemonisha," which was held in Atlanta. Ray said T.J. Anderson, who wrote the original orchestration, is expected to attend tonight's UTC production.

The fully staged and costumed production boasts a cast of 37 UTC students, alumni and members of the Chattanooga Choral Society.

The cast will be accompanied by the UTC Orchestra supplemented with musicians from the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera. The orchestra will be directed by Jooyong Ahn.

UTC graduate student Varanda Bell is cast in the title role.

"She is a soprano with an amazing range up and down the scale," said Ray. "I think she could have a career in opera because of her voice and good acting ability as well. We have quite a few good actors in this production."

"Treemonisha" is set in the mid-1880s on a former slave plantation in Texarkana, Ark., which was Joplin's childhood hometown. The teenage heroine has been taught to read by a white woman. That education serves her in leading her community against "conjurers" who are preying on the ignorance and superstitions of the uneducated.

"Joplin saw the people he grew up with were being taken advantage of by charlatans who scared people into buying their cures. Because Treemonisha was educated, she was able to expose the way they were using her people and free them from the financial oppression of these conjurers," said Ray.

In addition to highlighting the importance of education, Joplin's plot also explores the male/female interaction of a female leader, which was revolutionary in that time period.

While Joplin became famous for his ragtime music, the director said "Treemonisha's" score includes just three rag-inspired numbers in a range of pieces from gospel to grand opera.

"The music is influenced by every style of music that influenced Joplin, including opera. It's one of the more interesting things about this work in that here was a person doing something ahead of his time that later became the norm: mixing musical styles. It was not seen in his day," the director explained.

Dottie May Youells designed the opera's costumes, and Ray designed sets for this production, which were sewn/built by UTC theater students. Ray said students will be involved in stage management for each production. Professors Roland Carter and Gaye Jeffers are the opera's producers.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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