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Music not yet forgotten

BY CAROLINE BERG | JANUARY 21, 2010 7:30 AM

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Professor Katherine Eberle has spent approximately 20 years at the university developing a pedagogy in oratorio, chamber music, art song, and opera had. Now, she has produced a one-woman show to recount the life of an eminent 19th-century French composer and mezzo-soprano.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “I’m the kind of person who wants to stretch myself and take on new challenges.”

A seasoned mezzo-soprano soloist, Eberle will début her work Pauline Viardot: Singer, Composer, Forgotten Muse at 3 p.m. Jan. 24 in 1670 University Capitol Centre. Admission is free.

She devoted a year to organizing and preparing the one-hour production after winning a competitive Arts & Humanities Initiative grant. She recruited playwright and actor Maggie Conroy to sift through countless books and dissertations written about Viardot, as well as personal letters, to create a focused monologue about the influential European musician.

“Both of us wanted to create a piece that would introduce a new character to the community,” Conroy said. “[Viardot] was really at the center of Europe’s artistic circle [in the 1800s] … The list goes on and on of important people she was always around.”

Viardot was born into a family of opera singers. Her older sister’s mezzo vocals were especially popular, and she was dubbed the “Enchantress of Nations.” Viardot grew up taking piano lessons with Franz Liszt, and she spent a musical career associating with a variety of major artists. Those in her circle included the novelist George Sand (Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin), pianist Frédéric Chopin, and the love of her life — with whom she had an ongoing affair — Russian writer Ivan Turgenev.

Eberle was interested in the project not only as a challenge for herself but also because of her great respect and admiration for Viardot’s life and works.

“What was fascinating about putting together this play was discovering all the different facets of this artist that separates her from most other artists,” she said.

Viardot spoke six languages, wrote more than 150 musical compositions, and eventually retired to become a renowned music professor.

Eberle delved into the mental labor of memorizing a monologue and honed her proficiency on the piano in order to accompany herself while singing a slew of Viardot’s multilingual songs.

“[She] has an incredible capacity for work,” Conroy said. “She really is amazing … [and] the music really fits the range of her voice.”

Eberle intends to record the production and release her performance on DVD so that the legacy of Viardot may be appreciated and enjoyed by the general public and music students alike.

“I feel a certain responsibility as a teacher to provide certain additional musical works for the community,” she said.

While it’s true Iowa City has an active arts community, she said, she feels somewhat isolated from the wide scope of music one may find in New York or Chicago — including opportunities to view live opera.

However, a more pressing matter for her is the feeling that her beloved music school has become a forgotten refugee since the devastating 2008 flood.

“Our [music] students still haven’t left,” she said. “Which is a real testament to us professors.”

She is anxious to raise funds and rebuild a proper facility to house the music school. Eberle believes in the strength and potential of music education at Iowa, and she hopes her performance this Jan. 24 will reflect this conviction.


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