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New opera, "Sara McKinnon," to premiere at New Mexico State University

The premiere of a new opera by composer Randall Shinn and playwright Mark Medoff will be presented at New Mexico State University's Music Center Recital Hall July 27-Aug. 5.

The poster illustration for the new opera, "Sara McKinnon," premiering at New Mexico State University's Music Center Recital Hall July 27-Aug. 5. (Illustration by Bob Diven, scenic designer for the production.)

cKinnon" takes us back to the American Southwest in the 1870s and relates a classic tall tale about a female sheriff.

"I knew I wanted to do something endemic to the Southwest, my home since 1966," said Medoff, resident playwright and theater arts professor emeritus at New Mexico State University. "I was in possession of a movie idea, a tall tale in the form of a newspaper article about a woman sheriff in the Old West. From that tale, over the course of some years, the libretto developed."

The music for the opera is composed by Shinn, professor of theory and composition at Arizona State University and composer-in-residence at New Mexico State since 2000.

"My relationship with Randy has been extraordinary. Working on an opera isn't so different from working on a play or a movie in that librettist and composer must collaborate," Medoff said. He said his interest in writing the libretto -- his first -- had several driving parts.

"My youngest daughter, Jessica, swept me up into her commitment to an operatic career and the sheer beauty and dexterity of the human voice," Medoff said. "Secondly, if someone had said to me in the beginning of my own artistic career that I could have a life in any art form I chose, I would have chosen music without a moment's hesitation."

Medoff said Jon Linford, artistic director for the Dona Ana Lyric Opera at New Mexico State, asked him several years ago if he had any interest in writing a libretto. He said it took all of several seconds for him to confess his secret ambition to do just that.

The opera is set in a fictional Southwestern town just after the Civil War and has a broad base of characters -- vaqueros, prostitutes, outlaws, a sewing circle, a padre, a Sikh warrior, an Irish madam, Confederate veterans, a Mexican doctor and an Englishwoman raised in India.

"The multi-cultural characters allowed for an interesting mix of musical influences," Shinn said. "This will appeal to people who have never been to an opera before and people who are used to opera will feel right at home."

Shinn said the musical influences include Latino rhythms, ragtime rhythms, square-dance fiddling, country waltzes, church music and Hindu chant.

"Sara McKinnon" is Shinn's third finished opera. He wrote the librettos for two of his operas and is now working on his fourth opera composition. His works have been performed by the Phoenix Symphony, Arizona State University's Lyric Opera Theatre and other groups.

"I enjoyed composing Sara McKinnon," Shinn said. "The story is complex with a lot of characters and scene changes so we had to keep it moving."

To keep the action moving through 18 scene changes there will be one abstract set and a few moveable props, which will allow movement directly from one scene to the next.

The music is being directed by Martha Rowe, assistant professor of music at New Mexico State, and the choreography is by Kevin and Michelle Self.

Featured artists include Juline Barol-Gilmore as Sara McKinnon. Barol-Gilmore is a mezzo soprano and has performed with opera companies across the country including the Dona Ana Lyric Opera. Patrick Mason as Florentino is a baritone on the faculty of the University of Colorado. He performs operatic and concert repertoire throughout the world.

George Dyer of Kaysville, Utah, as Dr. Felipe Quinones, maintains an active career as an operatic tenor. Jon Linford as Sara's husband, Johnnie, and Mr. Singh is professor of voice and opera at New Mexico State and the founder and artistic director of the Dona Ana Lyric Opera.

Richard Rundell as Mayor Pickard is a professor of German at New Mexico State and has appeared on local stages for 23 years. Jennifer Jeffries as Miss Lily received a master's in vocal performance and was a voice instructor at New Mexico State. She has directed music for three American Southwest Theatre Company Christmas productions.

The Dona Ana Lyric Opera in cooperation with Matrix Capital Bank and Lou Sisbarro Dealerships will present five performances of "Sara McKinnon." The premiere also is funded by grants from the McCune Foundation and the New Mexico Arts Division and Wells Fargo.

Tickets range in price from $12 to $21. Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. July 27, Aug. 1 and Aug. 3, and 3 p.m. July 29 and Aug. 5.

For tickets or more information, call the music center box office at (505) 646-1993.