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Released April 14, 2004


HATTIESBURG -- The Symphony Orchestra at The University of Southern Mississippi will perform a two-hour evening of truly beautiful highlights from Richard Wagner's imposing volume of work, "The Ring of Nibelung" at 7:30 p.m. April 22 at the Mannoni Performing Arts Center Auditorium in Hattiesburg and at 8 p.m. April 24 at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson.

Three Wagnerian singers will join an expanded Southern Miss orchestra in the performances, including Heldentenor Douglas Biggs, dramatic bass Herbert Echkoff, and dramatic soprano Sheila Smith. Projections of paintings inspired by the tale will be featured behind the orchestra as they play.

Adding flare and drama to the production, dancers from Ballet Mississippi, a company based in Jackson, will perform during the performance.

"The Ring" is one of the most ambitious and most profound musical works ever composed. It begins in mythical times, ends with the beginning of modern humanity, and contains an enormous range of emotions. It is also a story about basic human conflict, one between unconditional love and a lust for power.

"It all started with Wagner's idea for a dramatic poem, 'Siegfried's Death,' to be set in music and was inspired by the story of a hero's death as told in the "Nibelungenlied" - the tales of Germanic mythology," said Dr. Jay Dean, musical director for the Symphony at Southern Miss. "It is a massive work that would take 16 hours to perform in its entirety. We are presenting what we feel are the most beautiful highlights of the works."

Biggs is a nationally renowned operatic tenor, having performed with companies from Durham, N.C., to Anchorage, Alaska. His Heldentenor designation is a German voice classification that means "hero" tenor--one who specializes in singing heavy tenor roles with a striking or dramatic quality.

"Wagner's music demands a robust style of singing by performers with great stamina and volume--an ability that all three of our guest performers possess," said Dr. Maryann Kyle, assistant professor of voice in the School of Music at Southern Miss. "If you are a true Wagnerian singer, you can sing forever and over any orchestra in the world. It's like being the lead trumpet player in a big band."

Eckhoff, distinguished American bass-baritone, is well known to international opera, symphony and oratorio audiences. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in "La Traviata" in 1997. He holds degrees in vocal performance as well as German language and literature from the University of Colorado.

Audiences and critics alike have hailed Smith as one of the great singing actresses of the day. Praised in equal measure for her luminous vocalism and her riveting acting, she has appeared at leading opera houses in America and Europe.

For those attending the Jackson concert on April 24, Dean has asked Dr. Robert Bailey, professor of musicology at New York University, to give a free pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m. on an overview of the work "Der Ring des Nibelungen" at the Thalia Mara Hall Mezzanine.

The 83rd season of the Symphony Orchestra at Southern Miss is sponsored by BancorpSouth, a long-time supporter of the program. The performance and pre-concert lecture in Jackson are supported as well by the Mississippi Humanities Council and presented in cooperation with Mississippi Opera.

For tickets to either concert, call the Southern Miss Ticket Office at (601) 266-5418 or (800) 844-8425 or order online at


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April 23, 2004 11:24 AM