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140+ students, guest alumnus, set to bring "Tales of Hoffmann" to life
Thursday, November 11, 2010

The 54th annual Hillman Opera will present a staged concert production of “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” (The Tales of Hoffmann), Jacques Offenbach’s rendition of the gothic tales of artist, poet and philosopher E.T.A. Hoffmann, with two performances at SUNY Fredonia.

The opera, featuring more than 140 students across multiple disciplines in a variety of roles, will be presented in King Concert Hall at Rockefeller Arts Center with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 12 and Saturday, Nov. 13.

Offenbach was a German-born French composer who was one of the most influential in 19th century popular music in Europe. His works were very popular in both France and the English-speaking world during the mid-1800s.

“Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” first performed in Paris in 1881, tells of a man, Hoffmann, who must choose between his love of poetry and his love for a woman. Hoffmann is challenged by his Muse who, taking several forms, is determined to lead him away from the woman and get him to commit himself fully to his poetry.

The Hillman production will be sung in French, with supertitles of the English text projected above the stage.

According to Hillman Opera production administrator Julie Newell, the staged concert opera format is becoming a more and more popular way of mounting the university’s annual production.

“The advantage of this style of production is that an audience has the opportunity to watch and listen to the full complement of performers as the orchestra is in full view,” she said. “However, the ability to present the story in a theatrically exciting way is in no way diminished.”

Ms. Newell noted there are styles of opera which are extremely well suited to this format, and “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” is in this group.

“‘Les Contes d’Hoffmann’ is listed among the top 10 performed operatic works worldwide and has, during its entire performance history, been a favorite of audiences,” Ms. Newell said. “Filled with energetic choruses reflective of a youthful student environment to gloriously romantic love duets to villains of the most evil kind ─ the musical and storytelling thrills are unending throughout the opera.”

During the fall of 1953, a group calling themselves the “Friends of Jessie Hillman Committee” organized what became the Hillman Memorial Music Association. The first Hillman Benefit Recital was in 1954. The association has solicited patrons in support of the opera and its scholarship program. The association has given hundreds of Hillman scholarships to deserving students.

Since 1956, the Hillman Memorial Music Association has cooperated with the School of Music in presenting the annual Hillman Opera, which is one of the highlights of the performing arts season on campus.

“This is essentially our ‘Rose Bowl,’” Ms. Newell said. “Most undergraduate institutions don’t do opera at this level, and those that do usually have only graduate- or even Ph.D.-level students in all the primary roles. At Fredonia, our undergraduates are not only given those roles – they’re good enough to pull them off. This performance will feature 45 cast members, 40 crew and 56 orchestra members — over 140 students in all — which is pretty remarkable.”

In addition to the impressive cast of SUNY Fredonia students, Les Contes D’Hoffmann” will feature guest artist tenor John Tiranno, a Fredonia School of Music alumnus (Class of 1999) in the title role.

Mr. Tiranno holds a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Fredonia and a master’s degree from West Virginia University, both in vocal performance. While at Fredonia he studied voice with Dr. David Evans and was a member of the college choir. He is a past winner of the Dorothy Strayer-Premier Music Award and the Pittsburgh Concert Society Major Audition. Mr. Tiranno currently resides in New York City with his wife and seven-month-old son.

He has performed throughout the United States and Canada in genres including Baroque, Classical, Verismo and Contemporary. The New York Times has called his singing “ardent and mellifluous” while Seen and Heard International labeled his portrayal of Alfredo in “La Traviata” as “very good.”

As part of the program on Friday, Nov. 12, the Jessie Hillman Award for Excellence will be presented to Helen Tinch Williams (Class of 1960). This award is presented to a person who is a dedicated and respected musician or educator, and has demonstrated a passion for teaching or performance.

Tickets are available through the SUNY Fredonia Ticket Office in the Williams Center, by phone at 673-3501 (1-866-441-4928) or online at

“Les Contes d’Hoffmann” is one of the productions comprising the 2010-11 Mix & Match season ticket plan. Season tickets are still available and subscribers can save up to 25 percent off regular prices. For details, inquire at the Ticket Office.

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