UT Opera and a New String Quartet Highlight Knoxville’s Broadening Classical-Music Landscape

In Classical Music by Alan Sherrodleave a COMMENT

With the proponents of fascism seemingly vanquished at the end of World War II, the United States and its European allies turned again to their prewar ideological enemy, communism. In 1949, the Soviet Union detonated its first nuclear device and Manhattan Project atomic scientist Klaus Fuchs chillingly confessed to spying, deepening fears of insidious and oppressive mechanisms working to subvert democracy. Into this anxious world, composer Gian Carlo Menotti brought his first full-length opera, The Consul, a 1950 work that mixes the absurdist predicaments of Franz Kafka with the totalitarianism alarms of George Orwell. The University of Tennessee Opera Theatre tackles The Consul this weekend in four performances at the Bijou Theatre.

The Consul, which premiered in Philadelphia and then ran for eight months on Broadway, won both the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the Drama Critics Award. Its popularity stemmed from its integrated use of text, music, and action to achieve Menotti’s stated philosophy of a “unified whole” in music drama. Critics invariably compliment the score’s “modern complexities,” which are moderated by lyrical arias and ensemble pieces.

Menotti’s libretto, set in an unnamed totalitarian European country, relates the story of John Sorel, a freedom fighter forced into hiding. Sorel’s wife, Magda, attempts to obtain a visa for the couple, his mother, and their child from a consulate of another nameless country. That consulate, though, is the quintessential totalitarian bureaucracy, where people fill out endless forms and endure illogical and unexplainable waits.

“We have decided to focus heavily on the Orwellian and Kafkaesque themes of the opera by presenting a design that is intentionally oppressive and unnerving,” says James Marvel, director of UT Opera Theatre. “We were inspired by the grayscale world of the communist state, so the show is white, black, and gray except for the occasional and intentional bursts of color.”

The set designer for the production will be Blair Mielnik, whose work was last seen in UT Opera’s Cosi fan tutte. UT School of Music’s Kevin Class is the music director and conductor. As is the custom, a double cast of student singers is split across the four performances.

University of Tennessee Opera Theatre presents Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul at the Bijou Theatre (803 S. Gay St.) on Friday, Nov. 13 (8 p.m.), Saturday, Nov. 14 (2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.), and Sunday, Nov. 15 (2:30 p.m.). Tickets are $20, with discounts for seniors and students. Visit music.uk.edu/opera for information. 


The health of a music scene can be measured by the existence and acceptance of new groups and ensembles that flourish outside of the bigger, traditionally funded organizations. One such ensemble is the new Knoxville-based string quartet Inner Voices, which will launch with a concert on Friday, Nov. 13, at the new creative hub known as the Hive. Inner Voices consists of violinists Ruth Bacon and Rachel Loseke, violist Christy Graffeo, and cellist Jeanine Wilkinson.

While all four quartet members also perform with the KSO or other local ensembles, their raison d’etre for Inner Voices has taken them in an alternate direction.

“For string players, chamber music is what we live for,” Wilkinson says. “It’s such a unique instrumentation that [allows] each player to be a soloist and at the same time be part of an ensemble. On top of this, the repertoire for this instrumentation is not only extensive but amazing, and anyone who has an opportunity to perform this genre will not turn it down.

“Putting on our own concert may seem like a simple idea because bands do it all the time at bars and such. But for classical players, we forget about this type of performance outlet unless it’s associated with a symphony or chamber series. We are putting on an event where people can eat and drink while enjoying some great music.”

Their inaugural program is called Mixed Tape and features select movements from a number of familiar works—Ravel’s String Quartet in F, Beethoven’s Op. 18, no.4, and Mozart’s String Quartet No. 14, in addition to Tango Ballet by Astor Piazzolla and Is Now Not Enough? by University of Tennessee graduate and Asheville resident Dosia McKay.

The evening is being produced by Kevin Doherty of k. doherty entertainment and the Hive.

Inner Voices presents Mixed Tape at the Hive (854 N. Central St.) on Friday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. Admission is $10. Visit Facebook.com/innervoicesstringquartet for more information. 


Alan Sherrod has been writing about Knoxville’s vibrant classical music scene since 2007. In 2010, he won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts—the Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera—under the auspices of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He also operates his own blogs, Classical Journal and Arts Knoxville.

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