A horse of many scholars: ASU enlivens Arizona Opera production of lost equine musical

October 15, 2015

It took a 60-year journey from Europe to the United States and back to bring Emmerich Kálmán’s musical comedy "Arizona Lady" to the main stage, and it would not be debuting without the discovery, translation and performances of Arizona State University scholars, alumni and students.

Arizona Opera’s production of the operetta — the tale of Arizona Lady, a horse attempting to win the Kentucky Derby – premiered in Tucson on Oct. 10. It opens Friday in Phoenix. A photo from the Arizona Lady opera Kálmán’s western-influenced musical comedy "Arizona Lady" faced obscurity before Arizona Opera partnered with scholars and musicians to bring it to the main stage. Photo by: Arizona Opera Download Full Image

It is a story that almost never was: Kálmán, a prolific Jewish composer from Hungary, was forced to flee his home in Vienna in 1938 at the onset of Nazi occupation in Austria. He first immigrated to Paris before moving to California and New York, where he became enamored with American musical theater and western movies.

Kálmán eventually returned to Austria but died before the completion of his last work, "Arizona Lady." Its manuscript was completed by his son but was largely left untouched before members of Arizona Opera, together with two-time ASU grad, former director at the Vienna State Opera and conductor Kathleen Kelly, revitalized it for audiences familiar with the Wild West — if not with the musician who made it.

“The Arizona Opera is to be congratulated for bringing ‘Arizona Lady’ to the attention of music lovers in Arizona,” said Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, ASU professor of history and director of the Center for Jewish Studies. She has been part of a collaboration to recover and restore the forgotten repertoire of Jewish composers whose work was banned by the Nazis. The music and stories of those composers are being presented by ASU experts and others at the Rediscovered Voices Festival leading up to “Arizona Lady” performances.

Kálmán’s personal journey is reflected in the operetta. It features a Hungarian immigrant aspiring to succeed in the Southwest, and was originally written in German with select lines in Spanish. To increase accessibility, Kelly and ASU University Professor of English and Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Rios translated the show into English. It will be performed in all three languages with supertitles projected above the stage.

“What I tried to find was some language that might find its way, language that would make its mark in the heart as much as the mind,” Rios said. “We don’t simply understand it — we must feel it. This is opera, after all.”

“They really tried to make this production as multicultural as possible,” said Dale Dreyfoos, professor of opera and music theater and resident stage director for ASU’s Lyric Opera Theatre. He plays “Arizona Lady’s” drunken jailer, Peligreen. “Musically, some of it sounds very much like Hungarian-influenced Viennese operetta, which is what Kálmán wrote. Some of the music sounds like it's straight out of ‘Oklahoma’; some of it sounds like it’s out of 'The Lawrence Welk Show' because it was written in the early 1950s. It’s very tuneful. It’s funny. It’s corny. But it’s touching, too.”

Dreyfoos noted that most theater companies in Phoenix involve ASU alums or students in nearly all of their productions — and that includes “Arizona Lady.”

Miriam Schildkret is one of those students. She completed her master’s degree in opera performance at ASU in 2014 and is now working toward her doctorate in voice performance. She is a member of the show’s chorus and will also appear in Arizona Opera’s productions of “Carmen” and “Falstaff.”

Though she’s been singing since before she could talk, Schildkret was new to the work of Kálmán, and said getting to know it was a pleasant surprise.

“It is always an incredible learning experience to rehearse in the same room with professional opera singers, directors and conductors, but this experience has been particularly great because everyone in the production is so welcoming and kind,” she said, noting how enjoyable it has been to work with Dreyfoos and Kelly.

During her time in Arizona, Kelly returned to her alma mater to teach two master classes to ASU students, including Schildkret.

“So many of us from those years are still living our lives as musicians, performing and teaching and creating,” Kelly wrote on her blog. “I was lucky to train here, and it’s a joy to come back.”

Kelly — like the operetta’s composer, scholars, students and musicians — has crossed the globe to pursue her art.

She’s not alone in being drawn to Arizona.

“Wild and strong and so inviting,” Kálmán wrote in the show’s finale, “Still untamed and still exciting — Arizona’s for me!”

Beth Giudicessi


ASU partners with Phoenix Police, Maricopa County to help families of missing persons

October 16, 2015

Patricia Williams was 19 years old when her mother was seen getting into a car near the intersection of 21st and Campbell avenues in Phoenix, on Nov. 25, 1993. She has never been seen again.

Officials estimate that more than 600,000 people are reported missing nationwide every year. Kimber Biggs speaks about her missing sister Kimber Biggs, whose sister Mikelle is still missing after disappearing in 1999 at age 11 while waiting for an ice-cream truck, speaks at a press conference about the grief, confusion and unwillingness to give up on finding a missing loved one. She plans to participate in Missing in Arizona on Oct. 24 on ASU's West campus. Photo by: Phoenix Police Department Download Full Image

That statistic inspired Robbin Brooks, a lecturer in Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, to begin a collaboration to stage Missing in Arizona, an event dedicated to connecting people with the resources to find their long-term missing loved ones.

The event, to be held Oct. 24 at ASU's West campus, is the result of a partnership between the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions, the City of Phoenix Police Department and Maricopa County.

Missing In Arizona is open to the public. Families of the missing are encouraged to attend to access help from law enforcement as well as share identifiers such as dental records, fingerprints and photographs that can be instrumental in solving cases. Support groups and private meetings will also be available to help families cope.

Similar events have yielded successes in other states. In Michigan, a similar event held for the last four years has resolved more than 50 cases, some dating back to the 1970s. This will be the first "Missing In ..." event held in Arizona.

“ASU’s participation in the event forms a link between society, law enforcement and social services,” Brooks said. “This event provides a great educational opportunity for students and educators who will be working side-by-side with law enforcement in gathering important information from families for the investigators.”

Stuart Somershoe, who has been involved with Phoenix Police’s missing-persons unit since 2007, and Christen Eggers, medicolegal death investigator for the Office of the Medical Examiner of Maricopa County, report that there are more than 2,000 people on the National Crime Information Center’s missing list in Arizona alone. They say that number could be higher due to many cases being mishandled or never investigated at all.

“Our goal is to resolve cases,” Somershoe said. “We want people to come forward and file reports, no matter how old. Unfortunately, a lot of families get the runaround. This event allows for families to come forward and file a report.”

Somershoe also acknowledged that some families fear reporting a missing person due to possible illegal-immigrant or criminal status. He assured them that this event is not about prosecuting people.

“Everyone has somebody who cares for them, loves them and wants to know what happened to them,” he said. “That’s part of the reason why we’re having it at ASU: We want to have a safe, non-law-enforcing environment, where people can come forward and we can help them.”

Friends and families of missing persons will be able to file reports on site, and they are also encouraged to bring medical and dental records of the missing individual, as there are many undocumented persons in the Maricopa County system.

“All of our unidentified information, demographic information does still get uploaded,” Eggers said. “A lot of people just don’t come forward when they have a missing person, so we don’t have the information to do a comparison with.”

But perhaps the most important aspect of the event will be the outreach and support groups that will be offered to family members.

Williams plans to attend Missing in Arizona with hopes of getting new information about her mother, but she also would like to help those who are going through the same thing.

“I was so young, I didn’t know anything except the tools she gave me, be strong, be a fighter, that’s how she raised me,” Williams said. “I hope to be that example to show people that you can live through the pain, and still keep the spirit and the memory of loved ones alive.”

Missing in Arizona will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 24, at the ASU West campus, 4701 W. Thunderbird Road, in Glendale. For reservations and more information, contact Detective Stuart Somershoe at 602-261-8065 or stuart.somershoe@phoenix.gov.

Written by Christopher Hernandez.

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions