2015–2016 Season Seeking the Human Element
The work that changed American Musical Theater forever. Show Boat carries us down the Mississippi through love’s choppy waters, as life rolls on for Magnolia and the gambling man she adores; a high watermark in this season’s extraordinary journey.
Starring Andriana Chuchman • Michael Todd Simpson • Lara Teeter • Alyson Cambridge • Angela Renée Simpson • Mary-Pat Green • Morris Robinson
Conductor Emmanuel Villaume • Production Francesca Zambello • Director E. Loren Meeker
Set Designer Peter J. Davison • Costume Designer Paul Tazewell
Opera in Brief
Unfamiliar with this opera? Let YouTube’s fizzylimon introduce you!
In 1887, the show boat Cotton Blossom arrives at the river dock in Natchez, Mississippi. The Reconstruction era ended a decade ago, and white-dominated southern legislatures have imposed racial segregation and Jim Crow rules. The boat’s owner, Cap’n Andy Hawks, introduces his actors to the crowd on the levee. A fist fight breaks out between Steve Baker, the leading man of the troupe, and Pete, a rough engineer who had been making passes at Steve’s wife, the leading lady Julie La Verne, a mixed-race woman who passes as white. Steve knocks Pete down, and Pete swears revenge, suggesting he knows a dark secret about Julie. Cap’n Andy pretends to the shocked crowd that the fight was a preview of one of the melodramas to be performed. The troupe exits with the showboat band, and the crowd follows.
A handsome riverboat gambler, Gaylord Ravenal, appears on the levee and is taken with eighteen-year-old Magnolia (“Nolie”) Hawks, an aspiring performer and the daughter of Cap’n Andy and his wife Parthy Ann. Magnolia is likewise smitten with Ravenal (“Make Believe”). She seeks advice from Joe, a black dock worker aboard the boat, who has returned from buying flour for his wife Queenie, the ship’s cook. He replies that there are “lots like [Ravenal] on the river.” As Magnolia goes inside the boat to tell her friend Julie about the handsome stranger, Joe mutters that she ought to ask the river for advice. He and the other dock workers reflect on the wisdom and indifference of “Ol’ Man River”, who doesn’t seem to care what the world’s troubles are, but “jes’ keeps rollin’ along”.
Magnolia finds Julie inside and announces that she’s in love. Julie cautions her that this stranger could be just a “no-account river fellow”. Magnolia says that if she found out he was “no-account”, she’d stop loving him. Julie warns her that it’s not that easy to stop loving someone, explaining that she’ll always love Steve, singing a few lines of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”. Queenie overhears – she is surprised that Julie knows that song as she has only heard “colored folks” sing it. Magnolia remarks that Julie sings it all the time, and when Queenie asks if she can sing the entire song, Julie obliges.
During the rehearsal for that evening, Julie and Steve learn that the town sheriff is coming to arrest them. Steve takes out a large pocket knife and makes a cut on the back of her hand, sucking the blood and swallowing it. Pete returns with the sheriff, who insists that the show cannot proceed, because Julie is a mulatto woman married to a white man, and local laws prohibit such miscegenation. Julie admits that she is a mulatto, or mixed race person, but Steve claims that he also has”black blood” in him. The troupe backs him up, boosted by the ship’s pilot Windy McClain, a longtime friend of the sheriff. The couple have escaped the charge of miscegenation, but they have to leave the show boat anyway; identified as “blacks,” they are not acceptable as actors for the segregated white audience. Cap’n Andy fires Pete, but in spite of his sympathy for Julie and Steve, he cannot violate the law for them.
Gaylord Ravenal returns and asks for passage on the boat. Andy hires him as the new leading man, and assigns his daughter Magnolia as the new leading lady, over her mother’s objections. As Magnolia and Ravenal begin to rehearse their roles and in the process, kiss for the first time (infuriating Parthy), Joe reprises the last few lines of “Ol’ Man River”.
Weeks later, Magnolia and Ravenal have been a hit with the crowds and have fallen in love. As the levee workers hum “Ol’ Man River” in the background, he proposes to Magnolia, and she accepts. The couple joyously sings “You Are Love”. They make plans to marry the next day while Parthy, who disapproves, is out of town. Parthy has discovered that Ravenal once killed a man, and arrives with the Sheriff to interrupt the wedding festivities. The group learns that Ravenal was acquitted of murder. Cap’n Andy calls Parthy “narrow-minded” and defends Ravenal by announcing that he also once killed a man. Parthy faints, but the ceremony proceeds.
Six years have passed, and it is 1893. Gaylord and Magnolia have moved to Chicago, where they make a precarious living from Gaylord’s gambling. At first they are rich and enjoying the good life, singing the song “Why Do I Love You?” By 1903, they have a daughter, Kim, and after years of varying income, they are broke and rent a room in a boarding house. Depressed over his inability to support his family, Gaylord abandons Magnolia and Kim. Frank and Ellie, two former actors from the showboat, learn that Magnolia is living in the rooms they want to rent. The old friends seek a singing job for Magnolia at the Trocadero, the club where they are doing a New Year’s show. Julie is working there. She has fallen into drinking after having been abandoned by Steve. At a rehearsal, she tries out the new song “Bill.” She appears to be thinking of Steve and sings it with great emotion. From her dressing-room, she hears Magnolia singing “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” for her audition, the song which Julie taught her years ago. Julie secretly quits her job so that Magnolia can fill it, without learning of her sacrifice.
On New Year’s Eve, Andy and Parthy go to Chicago for a surprise visit to their daughter Magnolia. He goes to the Trocadero without his wife, and sees Magnolia overcome with emotion and nearly booed off stage. Andy rallies the crowd by starting a sing-along of the standard, “After the Ball”. Magnolia becomes a great musical star.
More than twenty years pass and it is 1927. An aged Joe on the Cotton Blossom sings a reprise of “Ol’ Man River”. Cap’n Andy has a chance meeting with Ravenal and arranges his reunion with Magnolia. Andy knows that Magnolia is retiring and returning to the Cotton Blossom with Kim, who has become a Broadway star. Kim gives her admirers a taste of her performing abilities by singing an updated, Charleston version of “Why Do I Love You?” Ravenal sings a reprise of “You Are Love” to the offstage Magnolia. Although he is uncertain about asking her to take him back, Magnolia, who has never stopped loving him, greets him warmly and does. As the happy couple walks up the boat’s gangplank, Joe and the cast sing the last verse of “Ol’ Man River”.
Andriana Chuchman (Magnolia) This season, soprano Andriana Chuchman makes her debuts at the Los Angeles Opera as Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, Dallas Opera as Magnolia in Show Boat, and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as Boonyi in Shalimar the Clown, and returns to the Manitoba Opera as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. She also sings Handel’s Messiah with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Orff’s Carmina Burana and the world premiere of Larysa Kuzmenko’s Golden Harvest with the Winnipeg Symphony, and appears in recital in Toronto. Recent engagements have included appareances at the Metropolitan Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Tour, Washington National Opera, Glimmerglass Festival, Michigan Opera Theater, Bard Music Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, Toronto Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Ravinia Festival She is a recent graduate of the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and of the San Francisco Opera’s prestigious Merola Program.
Michael Todd Simpson (Ravenal) baritone, returned this season to Washington National Opera as Escamillo in Carmen and Seattle Opera as Cecil in Maria Sutarda. Recent appearances include A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Metroppoloitan Opera, The Consul at Seattle Opera and his San Francisco Opera debut as Ravenal in Show Boat. His many roles include the title role or leading roles in Eugene Onegin, Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosí fan tutte, Lucia di Lammermoor, Pagliacci, Carmen, The Pear Fishers, Manon, Carousel, and The Pirates of Penzance. He has also appeared at opera houses including New York City Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Cleveland Opera, Florida Grand opera, Portland Opera, Ft. Worth Opera, Opera North (U.K), Opera Australia and the NCPA in Beijing.
Angela Renée Simpson (Queenie) dramatic soprano, is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. and is a frequent performer in opera and concerts throughout the United States and Europe. Ms. Simpson has had an active performing schedule, including make her debut in Kentucky Opera’s production of Show Boat this past February. The soprano has performed in many major U.S. opera houses such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, Cleveland, Portland, Michigan, Peoria, and Denver. She has also performed to critical acclaim at La Scala in Milan, Italy and the Opera Bastille in Paris, France.
Morris Robinson (Joe) is a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. He has since appeared there in several roles. He has also appeared at the San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Dallas Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Seattle Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Wolf Trap Opera, and the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Mr. Robinson has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony, L’Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Baltimore Symphony, Met Chamber Orchestra, Nashville Symphony Orchestra, São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, and at the Ravinia, Mostly Mozart, Tanglewood, Verbier, and Aspen Music Festivals. Mr. Robinson’s first album, Going Home, was released on the Decca label.
Alyson Cambridge (Julie) American soprano, has over a decade of success on the world’s leading opera and concert stages including The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Albert Hall, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Vienna Konzerthaus, among others. Recent and upcoming engagements: her role debut as Cio-Cio-San in Madame Butterfly with Florentine Opera, her company debuts with Kentucky Opera, and her return to the Spoleto Festival USA for her role debut of Bess in Porgy and Bess. Ms. Cambridge’s recently released debut album, “From the Diary of Sally Hemmings” by William Bolcom premiered at Carnegie Hall’s Weil Recital Hall to rave reviews and she has just released an album of crossover and jazz standards, “Until Now.”
Emmanuel Villaume (Conductor) (Mrs. Eugene McDermott Music Director in honor of Graeme Jenkins). Emmanuel Villaume is in his third year as Music Director of The Dallas Opera after conducting Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Iolanta this past season. He made his debut with the company in 1998 conducting Faust. He is a frequent guest conductor at the world’s leading opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera, the Washington National Opera, Santa Fe Opera, London’s Royal Opera, the Paris Opera, Monte Carlo Opera,Venice’s La Fenice, the Munich Staatsoper, Berlin’s Deutsche Oper, the Hamburg Staatsoper, Madrid’s Teatro Real, and Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colón. He has led the Montreal Symphony in Montreal and at Carnegie Hall, the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the orchestras of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, St. Louis, Detroit, Minnesota, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Beethovenhalle Orchestra of Bonn, and the China National Opera Orchestra for the 2008 Olympic Games. He is also Chief Conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra. He served from 2001-2010 as the Spoleto Festival USA’s Music Director for Opera and Orchestra. Maestro Villaume has conducted award-winning recordings for Deutsche Grammophon (including Iolanta featuring Anna Netrebko), Warner Classics (Heroique with Bryan Hymel), Decca and EMI. In September, he will assume a new post as Music Director and Chief Conductor of the PKF--Prague Philharmonia, in addition to his work in Dallas.
Francesca Zambello (Original Production Designer) An internationally recognized director of opera and theater, Zambello’s work has been seen at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Bolshoi, Royal Opera House, Munich State Opera, Paris Opera, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera and the Dallas Opera. Her work ranges from her recent production of THE RING in San Francisco, a co-production with Washington National Opera, to her acclaimed SHOW BOAT presented in Chicago, Houston, Washington and San Francisco last season. She has staged plays and musicals on Broadway, at the Royal National Theatre, BAM, the Guthrie Theater, Vienna’s Raimund Theater, the Bregenz Festival, Sydney Festival, Disneyland, Berlin’s Theater des Westens, and at the Kennedy Center. Ms Zambello’s many awards and honors include: the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, and the Russian Federation’s medal for Service to Culture, three Olivier Awards, two Evening Standard Awards, two French Grand Prix des Critiques, Helpmann Award, Green Room Award, Palme d’Or in Germany, and the Golden Mask in Russia. She is Artistic Director of the Washington National Opera and General and Artistic Director of Glimmerglass Festival.
E. Loren Meeker (Stage Director) American stage director E. Loren Meeker was assistant director for San Diego from 2005-2007. She has served on the directing staff at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Portland Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, and Central City Opera where she was the 2006 recipient of the John Moriarty Award. Recent engagements include a collaboration with composer William Bolcom on Lucrezia for the Boston University Opera Institute, Cloclo for Chicago Folks Operetta, Don Giovanni for the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Die Fledermaus for San Francisco Opera and Penn State University, and Albert Herring for Red House Opera Group. Also known as a choreographer, her work includes Vanessa at Central City Opera, Orpheus in the Underworld at Glimmerglass Opera and The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni with Houston Grand Opera.
David Zimmerman (Wig and Make-up Design) has worked with The Dallas Opera and other opera companies around the world. These include the Metropolitan Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Santa Fe Opera, Paris National Opera, and Opera Santa Barbara. Mr. Zimmerman’s career extends to Broadway as well, where he has worked on shows including Wicked, Rocky Horror, Show Boat, South Pacific and Evita. His personal clients include Deborah Voigt, Joyce DiDonato, Patricia Racette, Martha Stewart, Olympia Dukakis, and Ricky Martin. He has also done the make-up for the DIFFA Fashion Runway, Dallas Fashion and Art Charity, and the Yelp.com fashion event. His print credits include two features in Opera News plus features in both Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Television and film credits include Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year and a feature film.
Alexander Rom (Chorus Master) is a native of Kharkov, Ukraine, and holds a Master’s Degree in Choral Conducting from Leningrad Conservatory of Music. Since immigrating to the U.S., he has worked as a performer, conductor, educator, voice teacher, opera coach, and composer. He has been the chorus master for The Dallas Opera since 1990 and an opera coach with the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Savonlinna Opera Festival, Cincinnati Festival, and Ravinia Festival. He has worked with world renowned singers including Paul Plishka, Mirella Freni, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Jorma Hynninen, Helga Dernesch, Martti Talvela, Joyce DiDonato, and Jerry Hadley. Maestro Rom is an honorary Visiting Professor at Sibelius Academy Helsinki Conservatory and was a Visiting Professor at Savonlinna Opera Festival Music Institute.