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Homecoming Excellence Gala and concert puts the spotlight on opera
Saturday, May 13, 2017

Homecoming Excellence Gala and concert puts the spotlight on opera

The Homecoming Excellence Gala dinner will be held in the Williams Center on Friday, Oct. 20. The 60th Anniversary Hillman Opera Celebration will be highlighted with an operatic theme throughout the dinner including a performance by Fredonia alumni Kateri Gormely Sackett, '12, and Kyle Sackett '12.

Alumna Helen Tinch Williams, Class of 1960, will receive the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Fredonia Alumni Association at the event. She will also serve as Mistress of Ceremonies for the Hillman Opera celebration concert at 8 p.m. in King Concert Hall that evening. The gala begins with cocktails at 5 p.m., with dinner served at 5:45 p.m.

Tickets and ticket packages may be reserved by contacting the Fredonia Ticket Office at (716) 673-3501. A VIP Opera Ticket Package is available that includes the Homecoming Excellence Gala dinner, a premier seating ticket for the opera concert in King Concert Hall and a post-concert reception to meet the special alumni guest performers. Patrons may also choose to purchase tickets separately for the dinner and concert as a mix and match option. Concert tickets will be available until sold out.

Hillman 60th Anniversary Alumni Concert

   Amanda Bottoms in the lead role in "La Cenerentola,"
   presented as the Hillman Opera at Fredonia.

Featured alumni guests slated to perform include sopranos Barbara Kilduff, '81, and Danielle Beckvermit, '15; mezzo sopranos Amanda Bottoms, '14, and Victoria Vargas, '08; tenors John Tiranno, '99, and Domonic Sack, '83; baritones Stephen Lusmann, '73, and James Wright, '09, '12. Also featured on the program will be alumni Marion Pratnicki '78; Mr. and Ms. Sackett, as well as members of the Fredonia voice faculty who are alumni including Laurie (Lasher) Tramuta, '82; Dr. Robert Strauss, '92, and Dr. Kimberly Upcraft, '92.

SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Julie Newell, '82, is producer of the event and director of the Opera program at Fredonia. She will be honored with the Jessie Hillman Award for Excellence during the event. The concert and Fredonia Opera Orchestra will be conducted by Dr. David Rudge, and the Fredonia Masterworks Choir of 120 students, under the direction of Dr. Adam Luebke, will perform. Performances of overtures to “The Gypsy Baron,” Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” and Mascagni’s “Intermezzo” from “Cavalleria Rusticana” will highlight the large orchestra.

The Hillman Opera at Fredonia dates back to 1957. Ms. Newell noted, “Sixty years of any artistic endeavor is noteworthy, as communities often change focus, for special activities such as operas often are aligned with a small group of especially devoted individuals. The Fredonia community and university have both held the Hillman Memorial Music Association and the opera as a core activity of each academic year for each of these past 60 years, and that reflects a unique shared and strong commitment.”

All alumni of the Hillman Opera are invited to participate on stage in the concert to join in the singing of "Libiamo" from “La Traviata.” A short rehearsal will be held at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 20. Alumni interested in participating should contact Ms. Newell no later than Sept. 15 via email at

Operatic favorites to be featured include choral blockbusters: "Va Pensiero" from Verdi's “Nabucco;” “Make Our Garden Grow" from Bernstein's “Candide;” and "The Promise of Living" from Copland's “The Tender Land.” Scenes will be performed from “La Boheme,” Rigoletto,” “Die Fledermaus,” and featuring current Fredonia students, “Cosi Fan Tutte” and “Carmen.”

Guest alumni artists will perform arias and special narratives will be shared. Arias to be performed include, "Marten aller Arten" from Mozart's “The Abduction From the Seraglio,” by Ms. Kilduff, a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals Concert in 1986; "Mon coeur s'ouvra ta voix" from Saint-Saëns’ “Samson and Delilah,” by Ms. Vargas of Minnesota Opera; "Les tringles des sistres tintaient" from Bizet's “Carmen,” by Ms. Bottoms; and "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's “The Barber of Seville,” by Mr. Wright, who recently starred in the role of Barber Figaro at the Savannah VOICE festival. A select sextet of current students will perform including Lucia Helgren, Abbey Kracker, Mariami Bekauri, Steven Maynard, Brandon Mecklenberg and David Waterland.

“We celebrate the creation of the Hillman Memorial Music Association, in the mid-1950s, with the focus on generating funding for music students in the then Music Department,” Ms. Newell noted. “We celebrate the namesake of the Hillman Memorial Music Association, Jessie Hillman, a tireless and beloved professor of music for many years beginning in the late 19th century. We celebrate a collaboration created by visionaries led by a committed board of directors, headed for many years by Fredonia Vice President for Student Affairs Emeritus Robert Coon.

In my 25 years of serving as producer of the Hillman Opera, I have never found any other academic opera program which is supported in anything similar to this community collaboration,” she added, “This collective and inclusive spirit has been present in the Fredonia/Dunkirk-State University of New York at Fredonia community for decades, and those of us fortunate to learn and create within it are honored to celebrate its long history and excited to look toward the next 60 years.”

The performance is sponsored by Gugino and Ryel Financial as part of the 2017-2018 Lake Shore Savings Season.

It promises to be a magical night and a wonderful tribute to opera at Fredonia.

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