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Released March 31, 2004


HATTIESBURG -- Composer Richard Wagner is one of the most influential and controversial figures in the entire history of music. One work in particular took him more than 25 years to create, Der Ring des Nibelungen, a 16-hour music drama comprised of four operas.

The Symphony Orchestra at The University of Southern Mississippi will present a two-hour performance of highlights from this imposing volume of work at 7:30 p.m. April 22 at Bennett Auditorium on the Southern Miss Hattiesburg campus, 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. The prospect of having such talented and experienced singers in the vicinity of her students prompted Dr. Maryann Kyle, director of Southern Opera and Music Theatre in the Southern Miss School of Music, to develop a three-day workshop for students to learn from the masters.

The 2004 Southern Vocal Arts Conference, "Richard Wagner and His World," will offer master classes with the all three guest soloists April 22-23 in Hattiesburg and, in an educational collaboration, at Belhaven College in Jackson April 23.

Designed for singers, directors, voice teachers, vocal coaches or anyone interested in the history of Wagner's time and the role he played, classes include lectures by Wagnerian scholars on topics ranging from "Dresden and the Kingdom of Saxony during the Time of Wagner" by Dr. Reiner Pommerin, a German historian, to musicologist Dr. Katherine Syer's "Staging Der Ring des Nibelungen."

"These are world-class scholars, and having them involved in the conference creates a level of seriousness in the educational aspect of the project," said Dr. Jay Dean, director of the Symphony Orchestra at Southern Miss. "I met Dr. Pommerin in Dresden last year, and since this event is connected with the Dresden exhibition in Jackson, it made perfect sense to involve an expert from where Wagner spent a great deal of his career."

In addition to lecturers Pommerin and Syer, Dr. William Kinderman, professor and chair of the musicology division at the University of Illinois and Dr. Robert Bailey, professor of musicology at New York University, will give lectures on Wagner and his music.

"Dr. Stanley Hauer, professor of English, assisted us in securing Bailey, who, in turn, recommended Dr. Kinderman and his wife Dr. Syer, both Wagnerian experts.

Guest performers are Heldentenor Douglas Biggs, dramatic bass Herbert Echkoff, and dramatic soprano Sheila Smith. Biggs is a nationally renowned operatic tenor, having performed with companies from Durham, N.C., to Anchorage, Alaska.

Heldentenor is a German voice classification that means "hero" tenor. This singer specializes in singing heavy tenor roles with a striking and/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," Kyle explained. "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, a 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 the leading opera houses in America and Europe.

Admission is free and open to the public for all lectures and master classes, made possible by assistance from the Mississippi Humanities Council. The conference is also being presented in conjunction with the Glory of Baroque Dresden international exhibition in Jackson.

For tickets to the April 22 or 24 concerts, call the Southern Miss Ticket Office at (601) 266-5418 or (800) 844-8425 or order online at For more information about the conference, visit or contact Kyle at (601) 266-6059 or



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April 6, 2004 2:56 PM