New Opera Aims to `Slay' Intolerance

World premiere opera gives villain a chance at redemption

Slaying the Dragon, Center City Opera Theater, June 2012
Slaying the Dragon, Center City Opera Theater, June 2012
  • Slaying the Dragon, Center City Opera Theater, June 2012
    Slaying the Dragon, Center City Opera Theater, June 2012
    Slaying the Dragon, Center City Opera Theater, June 2012
    Slaying the Dragon, Center City Opera Theater, June 2012
Philadelphia, Pa. - (May 23, 2012) - Center City Opera Theater is proud to present Slaying the Dragon, a powerful and eclectic new opera by composer Michael Ching and librettist Ellen Frankel which confronts contemporary themes such as ethnic tolerance, stereotyping, and redemption.  This two-act work, set for its world premiere June 7 at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia and running through June 17, demonstrates that new opera can enliven centuries-old music while engaging us with current social conflicts.

“This opera is a powerful vehicle for confronting contemporary themes,” says Ellen Frankel, librettist for Slaying the Dragon. “Tolerance, the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric and stereotyping, and the possibilities of atonement and personal redemption.”

Inspired by real events depicted in the bookNot by the Sword by Kathryn Watterson, Slaying the Dragon is the tale of Jerry Krieg (portrayed by Christopher Lorge), a white supremacist who renounces his life of hatred due to an unlikely friendship with rabbi Nathan Goodman (Jason Switzer) and his wife Vera (Teresa Eickel).  The opera explores the complex process of atonement, forgiveness, and redemption; through their relationship, both men undergo personal transformations and break from the prisons of their dark pasts.

In writing the music for Slaying the Dragon, composer Michael Ching counters intolerance through the joy of music, bringing together a range of lively, eclectic, and wide-ranging styles. For his score, Ching drew from a variety of musical genres and sources - Yiddish folk songs, Vietnamese children’s songs, Jewish sacred music, Aryan rock, and Gospel.

"I have never been through such a robust and healthy workshop process as I have with CCOT,” says Ching.  “Dragon is ready for the rotten tomatoes or the bouquets of roses!"

The cast includes:  Roland Burks, who portrays an African-American preacher; Jody Kidwell, who portrays a Holocaust survivor; and David Koh, who portrays a Vietamese director of an Asian Settlement Center.  All three characters are deeply afflicted by the hateful actions of Jerry Krieg and struggle through the process of forgiving him.

Center City Opera Theater is an opera company based in Philadelphia whose primary mission is the development and production of new works.  Slaying the Dragon is the latest work to emerge from Center City Opera Theater’s Creative Development Projects, an ongoing series of workshops that nurtures new opera works from inceptions to fully-staged premieres.  During the two-year development process, workshops for Slaying the Dragon included a libretto reading in June 2011, music workshops in September 2011 (as a part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Fringe Festival) and in January 2012, and staged workshops in February 2012.  The new opera premieres at the Prince Music Theater June 7 and 9 and at the Academy of Vocal Arts June 14, 16, and 17 during the national Opera America Conference, which is held June 13-16 in Philadelphia this season.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.operatheater.org.

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Center City Opera Theater’s mission is to present opera productions of the highest professional quality with a focus on new work and education, recruiting new audiences through intimacy and affordability of performances and providing opportunities for emerging opera professionals.  Now in its 13th season, CCOT remains the only professional opera company in the United States whose primary mission is the development and production of new opera works.


Cast & Design Team
Christopher Lorge (Tenor) - Jerry Krieg, Grand Dragon KKK
Jason Switzer (Baritone) - Rabbi Nathan Goodman
Teresa Eickel (Soprano) - Vera Goodman, the Rabbi's wife.
Roland Burks (Bass-Baritone) - Dr. Lincoln Masterson, a Baptist Preacher
David Koh (Tenor) - Giet Long, Director of the Asian American Center
Jennifer Braun/Sarah Beckham (Soprano) - Reverend Ava Gray
Jody Kidwell (Mezzo-Soprano) - Esther, a Holocaust survivor
Paul Corujo (Baritone) - Bud Connor, A Talk Show Host & Grand Magi of the KKK
Robert Davidson (Baritone) - Viper, the Nighthawk of the KKK
Daniel Foltz-Morrison (Tenor) - Beast, a young Skinhead
Sarah Beckham / Jennifer Hoffmann / Alexandra Roth - Tammy
Andrew M. Kurtz - Conductor
Leland Kimball- Stage Director
Peter Tupitza  - Set Designer
J. Dominic Chacon  - Lighting Designer
Amy Chmielewski  - Costume Designer


About Slaying the Dragon
Slaying the Dragon is inspired by real events that took place in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the early 1990’s, when Larry Trapp, Grand Dragon of the Nebraska Ku Klux Klan, conducted a hate campaign against minority groups in this predominantly white Midwestern city.  But when Cantor Michael and Julie Weisser reached out to Larry, despite his anti-Semitic threats, Larry turned his back on bigotry, and campaigned for tolerance until he died in the Weissers’ home from advanced diabetes. Larry’s story was chronicled in Kathryn Watterson’s 1995 book, Not By the Sword, which subsequently inspired several other imagined and documentary works.

Drawing upon these historical events, Slaying the Dragon presents the fictional story of Jerry Krieg, a white supremacist whose life is suddenly transformed thanks to the kindness extended to him by Rabbi Nathan Goodman and his wife, Vera. Won over by their compassion, Jerry renounces his association with the Klan and other hate groups, and begins to speak out publicly for tolerance.  However, Jerry’s advanced diabetes cuts short his plans for a new life.  Unable to care for himself, Jerry moves in with the Goodmans and converts to Judaism before dying.

During the course of the opera, we learn that Jerry was abused as a child and that Nathan spent part of his childhood in an orphanage and was later imprisoned for robbery before deciding to become a rabbi. In reaching out to Jerry, Nathan succeeds in healing many of the wounds inflicted during his own childhood.  Before Jerry dies, he reaches out to his own abuser, his father, and reconciles with him.

In the end, this story is about two men, each scarred by abuse and the absence of love, who both find redemption from the prisons of their past.  The story also presents a powerful portrait of repentance and forgiveness, and the possibility of authentic change.


About the Creators
Slaying the Dragon is Mr. Ching’s third full length opera. His most recent work is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the world’s first full length acappella opera, which was premiered by Opera Memphis, Playhouse on the Square, and Deltacappella in January 2011. Mr. Ching’s 2003 opera, Corps of Discovery, was commissioned by the University of Missouri for the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and has also been performed by Opera Memphis, Washington State University, Fargo Moorhead Opera, and in excerpted form at Lewis and Clark Bicentennial commemorations, at the Kennedy Center, and by the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers Chorus. Michael Ching’s best known opera is Buoso’s Ghost. A sequel to Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, it has been performed by companies in cities such as Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and New York.

From 1992-2010, Michael Ching was Artistic Director of Opera Memphis. Michael has conducted with a variety of companies, including Hawaii Opera, Opera New Jersey and Nashville Opera. His non-operatic compositions include a Piano Concerto recorded and premiered by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and Psyche and Eros, which received its international premiere as part of the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival.

Although Slaying the Dragon is librettist Ellen Frankel’s first opera, she has been writing libretti for choral works for the past twelve years, working primarily with Philadelphia composer Andrea Clearfield. In May 2000, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony premiered Clearfield’s cantata, “Women of Valor,” which included two pieces by Frankel, “Sarah” and “Hannah.”  In 2011, the Women’s Sacred Music Project commissioned Clearfield and Frankel to write a new movement, “Hagar,” for an adapted version of “Women of Valor,” which was performed in September 2011 at a Philadelphia abbey and synagogue.

In 2005, Philadelphia’s prestigious Mendelssohn Club Choir commissioned Ms. Clearfield to write a new oratorio; Frankel wrote the libretto.The resulting work, “The Golem Psalms,” inspired by the ancient Jewish legend of the Golem, premiered at the University of Pennsylvania in May 2006, performed by the Mendelssohn Club and the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, with Sanford Sylvan as baritone soloist, and has also been performed at Haverford College, Indiana University, and at Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center. Frankel and Clearfield have signed agreements with Center City Opera Theater to develop a full-length opera based on the legend of the Golem, as part of CCOT’s Creative Development Projects.

Dr. Frankel is the author of ten published books, including The Classic Tales, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols, The Five Books of Miriam, and The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, which won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. She served for eighteen years as the Editor in Chief and CEO of The Jewish Publication Society, the oldest and only nondenominational, non-profit publisher of Jewish works in English, and was named its first Editor Emerita upon her retirement in 2009.  Dr. Frankel received her B.A. from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Princeton.

About Creative Development Projects
Center City Opera Theater is unique in its mission to bring brand new opera works from inception to fully-staged production.  Creative Development Projects is a series of opera works at various stages of development; each undergo a number of workshops until their world premiere with Center City Opera Theater.  CCOT presented the world premiere of  Danse Russe by Pulitzer prize winning composer Paul Moravec with original libretto by Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout at the Kimmel Center as a part of the 2011 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. 

Current CDP’s include: Slaying the Dragon (music by Ching and libretto by Frankel, world premiere June 2012); Love/Hate (music by Perla and libretto by Bailis); Maren of Vardo (music by Myers and libretto by Vavrek); The Golem (music by Clearfield and libretto by Frankel); The Great Blondin by (music by Vigue and libretto by Innaurato.)

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PRESS RELEASE SUMMARY
WHAT: THE WORLD PREMIERE OF SLAYING THE DRAGON.
WHO: Center City Opera Theater
WHEN: June 7-17, 2012
WHERE: June 7 & 9 at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia; June 14, 16, & 17 at AVA’s Helen Corning Warden Theater in Philadelphia.
COST: $39-79 June 7-9; $59 general admission June 14-17
Tickets available online by visiting www.OperaTheater.org

For additional information and materials regarding this press release, as well as requests for interviews, quotes, or full season press kit, contact Marketing Associate Eric Brower:  610.547.3476 or eric@operatheater.org