Kelly Bietka
School of Music

Composer to return for KU performances of 'Tartuffe'

Fri, 01/18/2013

LAWRENCE — Kirke Mechem’s three-act opera "Tartuffe," the first opera he composed, will come to life on the stage of Crafton-Preyer Theatre when KU Opera presents this modern work next week at the University of Kansas.Kirke Mechem

Mechem, a native of Topeka who received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from KU in 2012 for his notable contributions to choral music and opera, will attend both performances, Jan. 25 and Jan. 27, as well as visit with KU School of Music students and faculty on the 25th.

Tartuffe, first premiered by the San Francisco Opera in 1980, is set in Paris in the 17th century and is based on an English translation of the French play of the same name by Moliere. KU Opera will present a version with a cast of eight principal characters (wearing period costumes), with the KU Symphony Orchestra accompanying, led by Maestro David Neely. Professor John Stephens will serve as stage director.

The story is set in the household of a wealthy French gentleman, Orgon, and his family and maid. Looked highly upon by Orgon’s mother, Tartuffe is befriended by Orgon and is soon welcomed into his home. Tartuffe’s conniving, hypocritical and manipulative ways quickly become evident to everyone else in the family except Orgon, creating much upheaval in the household.

“The opera is lively and tuneful, with charming arias and clever ensembles,” Stephens said.

Recognized as “the dean of American choral composers,” Mechem studied music at Stanford University and earned a master’s degree in composition from Harvard. He returned to Stanford as assistant choral director and then lived in Vienna before becoming the composer-in-residence at the University of San Francisco.

Mechem is credited with more than 250 works, including “Give Thanks unto the Lord,” which won the SAI American Music Award; “Symphony No. 1,” premiered by the San Francisco Symphony in 1965; “Seven Joys of Christmas,” and “Island in Space.” He has been honored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Choral Directors Association, the Music Educators National Conference and the National Opera Association with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007, the American Choral Directors association celebrated Mechem’s 50 years of compositions with a retrospective concert at its national convention. In January 2011, his work “From the Heartland,” a composition for baritone and orchestra based on four poems by his father, was premiered by the Topeka Symphony at a program in honor of Kansas’ sesquicentennial, as well as his work “The Jayhawk: Overture to a Mythical Comedy.”

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 27. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10/students and seniors. Call 785-864-3436 for ticket information.

For more information, contact the KU School of Music at 785-864-3436 or visit

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