Rousing ragtime 'Treemonisha' comes to WFU

By Pam Barrett
Oct. 12, 2005

NOTE TO EDITORS: Rick Benjamin and the performing company for "Treemonisha" will be at Wake Forest rehearsing Oct. 24 - Oct. 27. Morning show segments and interviews can be arranged. Contact Pam Barrett at 336-758-5237.

Wake Forest University's Secrest Artists Series will present Rick Benjamin's reconstruction of the lost orchestrations of Scott Joplin's ragtime opera "Treemonisha" at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27 in Wait Chapel. This will be the first performance of this version of "Treemonisha" on the East Coast.

Scott Joplin's ragtime opera "Treemonisha"

A free, pre-concert talk will be held at 6:40 p.m. in the Balcony Room of Wait Chapel with Richard Heard, associate professor of music at Wake Forest.

Joplin's version of "Treemonisha" follows the story of an African-American community's emergence from slavery. A young 18-year-old woman, Treemonisha, is the only one with schooling and convinces the townspeople to reject the local conjurers' superstitions in favor of hard work and learning.

The traditional term "opera" describes the format of Joplin's work, but according to Benjamin, the previous modern-day orchestrations of "Treemonisha" were of grandiose dimensions and depended on large orchestras. "There is no real evidence that Scott Joplin ever had this in mind," Benjamin said. "His real dream was to give everyday people the opportunity, perhaps their only one, to experience opera on their own terms in the music halls and neighborhood theaters."

Benjamin's historical re-creation features a musical style that is designed to speak directly to modern audiences. Heartfelt arias, rousing ragtime choruses and a rhythmic, snappy score are performed by the 13-piece Paragon Ragtime Orchestra and a cast of 40.

A performer and scholar, Benjamin is the founder and director of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. He is an authority on late 19th and early 20th century American music and has been recognized as a leading force of the Ragtime Revival. He also serves as a guest conductor, arranger and pianist and consults and conducts for motion pictures, radio and television. Benjamin completed the reconstruction of Joplin's "Treemonisha" in four years. He is currently working on a book about the music of the Ragtime Era.

Wake Forest's production of "Treemonisha" is funded in part by a grant through the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation's Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour (PennPAT) Presenter Program.

Tickets for "Treemonisha" are $20 for adults; $12 for senior citizens and non-WFU students; and $5 for children under 12. They are available through the Theatre Box Office at 336-758-5295. Group discounts are available.

The Secrest Artists Series will also include three other concerts this season:
Nov. 15, Radio Kaboul: Ustad Mahwash & Friends, performing the traditional music of Afghanistan, 7:30 p.m., Brendle Recital Hall.

Feb. 28, Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, featuring Chief Conductor Ivor Bolton and piano soloist Stephen Hough, 7:30 p.m., Wait Chapel.

March 30, Isabel Bayrakdarian, renowned Armenian-Canadian soprano, 7:30 p.m., Brendle Recital Hall.

For more information about any of these concerts, call 336-758-5757.

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