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Underworld Productions Opera

Gina Crusco, Artistic Director

Clarence & Anita: Setting a Piece of American History to Music

Patrons were among the first to hear selections from Clarence & Anita, a new opera by Ben Yarmolinsky based on the 1991 hearings confirming Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment.

Imagine hearing a politically-charged conversation, first as spoken by the original participants, and then sung as opera! This will be your experience during Clarence & Anita: Setting a Piece of American History to Music. First you will view archival footage from the 1991 U.S. Senate confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court during which Anita Hill accused the nominee of sexual harassment. Then you will hear live performance of the same testimony set to music. Composer Ben Yarmolinsky will share the inside story and answer your questions about how he turned American history into riveting musical theatre.

You’ll be among the first to hear selections from Mr. Yarmolinsky’s opera Clarence & Anita, which will receive its stage premiere by Underworld Productions Opera on June 8 & 9, 2011 at Riverside Theatre. Clarence & Anita takes its libretto verbatim from the 1991 hearing transcripts. These events, unfolding within the confines of a congressional chamber and couched in the dry legal protocol, generated high drama. Mr. Yarmolinsky’s composition emphasizes naturalism in text-setting, and embraces everything from nursery rhymes to North African rhythms, from Rhythm & Blues to Renaissance & Baroque music.

Underworld Productions Opera has been recognized for innovation and excellence by Musical America, Opera News, The New York Times, and in the blogosphere. Artistic Director Gina Crusco has been on the voice faculty of New School University; was for two seasons the Maestro del Coro of Teatro Lirico Sperimentale di Spoleto (Italy); and is a recipient of awards from Fractured Atlas and Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance. UP’s distinguished Advisory Board includes international tenor Marcello Giordani.

In the 2009-2010 season, the company created an “interesting twist” and “inventive solution” to Rameau’s Pygmalion that made “a social point or two about the war of the sexes” (Allan Kozinn, The New York Times). The Times review praised “Ms. Crusco’s elegantly simple staging,” and lead singer Nils Neubert’s “attractive tenor, beautifully controlled vibrato and amusing, flexible portrayal.”

The 2008-2009 season brought Cosi fan Tutte: Defining Women, an updating of Mozart’s opera with text-messaging interactivity recognized as a landmark event in Musical America’s “Year in Music 2009.” This event brought the group inclusion in a New York Times first arts-page article and wide discussion in the blogosphere (Madison Opera blog: “This is genius!”). Past performances include the 2007 world premiere of Henry Papale’s JULIA: An Operatic Monodrama, based on the letters of Julia Ward Howe, an event also previewed at Riverdale Ethical Culture Society.

Composer Ben Yarmolinsky has written chamber music, choral music, musical theater works, orchestral music, film scores, and five operas. Before graduating from Harvard in 1977, Yarmolinsky had two years of private study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. From 1978 through 1982, he lived in Morocco where he taught music at the American School of Tangier, immersed himself in the local music, and was friendly with Paul Bowles. On returning to New York, he studied composition with David Del Tredici, Robert Starer, and Ned Rorem. In 1991, he received the Ph.D. in music from the City University of New York. He is president of Friends and Enemies of New Music, a new music presenting organization founded in 1989, and he is a tenured full professor of music at the Bronx Community College.

Bass-baritone Isaac Grier (Clarence Thomas), a native of Flint, Michigan, has sung with Opera North (New Hampshire), New Orleans Opera, The Martina Arroyo Foundation, dell’Arte Opera Ensemble (NYC) and recently with Regina Opera. In 2010, Grier was the featured soloist with the Flint Symphony Orchestra. He also appeared as Rochefort in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, in Lucia di Lammermoor with dell’Arte Opera Ensemble and Angelotti in Tosca with Regina Opera. Grier received his Bachelor of Music from Xavier University in New Orleans and his Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music.

Yolanda F. Johnson, soprano (Anita Hill) made her New York operatic debut as Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and has performed internationally, including the Elysium Music Festival in Germany. She has performed in several musical venues including opera, concert, oratorio, sacred music and as a guest soloist with various orchestras. Ms. Johnson is an active lecture-recitalist, most notably in “A Spirituals Experience,” her program on African-American spirituals.

Clarence & Anita: Setting a Piece of American History to Music is funded in part through Meet the Composer’s MetLife Creative Connections program. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. This program is also made possible in part with public funds from the Fund for Creative Communities, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts and administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Additional funding has been provided by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and Venable Foundation. Underworld Productions Opera thanks Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, JP Morgan Chase, Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, WNYC STAR Initiative, Google Grants, Casa Italiana of NYU, Dwyer Cultural Center and Gotham Early Music Scene for their support.