WUSTL Opera to present A Month in the Country

The Washington University Opera will present Lee Hoiby’s A Month in the Country — based on the play by Ivan Turgenev — at 8 p.m. March 18-19 in Edison Theatre.

Set on a provincial estate in Central Russia, A Month in the Country (1850) is widely considered Turgenev’s finest dramatic work and a precursor to Chekhov. A sharply observed tale of love and passion among the rural bourgeoisie, it tells the story of Natalia Petrovna, an aristocratic wife who — bored with life in the country — grows infatuated with Belaev, the young tutor of her daughter, Katja.

Debra Hillabrand plays Natalia to lead the 11-member cast of *A Month in the Country*, being performed by the Washington University Opera.
Debra Hillabrand plays Natalia to lead the 11-member cast of *A Month in the Country*, being performed by the Washington University Opera.

Yet as her feelings become more pronounced, Natalia perceives a rival for Belaev’s affections: her 16-year-old ward, Verochka.

“Natalia is searching for the passion that she doesn’t feel in her marriage,” said Jolly Stewart, director of the Washington University Opera. “Though her husband loves her deeply, Natalia becomes wed to the kinds of things that often make us feel passionate: poetry, art, music.

“Ultimately, A Month in the Country is about the passions people need to feel in their lives, how those passions change us and how life resolves back into the every.”

Stewart, who directed Hoiby’s Summer and Smoke in 1999, noted that A Month in the Country is something of lost gem in the world of opera. First adapted in 1964 for the New York City Opera under the title Natalia Petrovna, the piece was revised in 1980 but had gone years without a performance until last December, when the Manhattan School of Music launched a well-received production.

Anne Midgette, a music critic for The New York Times, noted at the time: “You could perhaps carp that Mr. Hoiby’s music is conservative, tonal and breaks little new ground, but I was too busy being engrossed by it, and by the opera’s psychological insight and grateful vocal writing.”

“This whole evening was a reminder that there are, contrary to conventional wisdom, good operas being written in our time.”

Hoiby’s other major operatic works include The Scarf (1957), Something New for the Zoo (1979), The Italian Lesson (1981) and This Is the Rill Speaking (1992).

In addition, Hoiby has made significant contributions to the piano repertory, including two piano concertos and a variety of chamber pieces. His choral music is widely performed in churches throughout the United States.

The 11-member cast of A Month in the Country is led by Debra Hillabrand as Natalia, Megan Higgins as Verochka and Clark Sturdevant as Belaev. (All three will graduate in May with master’s degrees in vocal performance.)

Adam Cromer, a 2004 graduate in vocal performance, appears as Arcady, Natalia’s husband. Scott Levin, who earned a bachelor of music degree in 2003, sings the role of the poet Rakitin.

John Stewart, director of the University’s vocal program, conducts the 14-member orchestra.

Several costumes are on loan from Opera Theatre of St. Louis, with additional costumes by local designer Micah Beck. Sets and lighting are by WUSTL alumnus Patrick Huber, who teaches and coaches drama at the Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School.

The performances are sponsored by the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences.

Tickets are $15; $10 for students, seniors and WUSTL faculty and staff; and $5 for WUSTL students.

For more information or to order tickets, call the Edison Theatre Box Office at 935-6543.