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The Descent of Inanna to Debut at Dominican University of California

A cast of more than 50 musicians, singers, and dancers will perform in Marcia Burchard's new opera The Descent of Inanna when it makes its debut at Dominican University of California Saturday, November 5 and Sunday, November 6. The libretto is set in Sumeria (southern Iraq) and is based on the myth of the Bronze Age goddess Inanna.


Performances are November 5 at 8 p.m. and November 6 at 2 p.m. in Angelico Concert Hall. Tickets are $18 general admission and $15 seniors/children. Plenty of free parking is available in the lot at the intersection of Grand and Acacia avenues in San Rafael.

The myth of Inanna - or Ishtar as she was called in northern Sumeria - is the oldest known written myth, having been written piece-by-piece on clay tablets about 4,000 years ago. Burchard's musical score is influenced by Middle-Eastern music and Sumerian modes, as recent research shows the Sumerians first wrote the seven-note modes, or scales, usually attributed to the Greeks. The orchestration includes music for piano, English horn and percussion, as well as Baroque instruments, including flute, viola da gamba, violin, and cello.

The Descent is drawn from the central episode in the Inanna myth, in which Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, descends to the underworld to meet her dark sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. During the descent, Inanna is stripped of the regalia of her office as she passes through the seven gates of the underworld on the way to her face-to-face encounter with Ereshkigal. Ereshkigal fastens on Inanna 'the eye of death' and for three days hangs Inanna like a carcass on a hook. Enki, the god of wisdom, sends two creatures to plead with Ereshkigal for Inanna's release. Inanna is restored to life and ascends to assume her place once more as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

"The myth of Inanna opens a wide perspective on the origins of many key themes of the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic cultures that followed millennia later," says Burchard.

Karen Clark, has been hailed by the New York Times for her "astonishing range of expressive subtlety," will play the lead role of Inanna. Deborah Benedict, an instructor of voice at University of California at Berkeley and Dominican University of California, will play Ereshkigal. The 30-member chorus includes Dominican University faculty, students, alumni, and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus.

A lecture by New York-based storyteller Diane Wolkstein, co-author of Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, from which the libretto is drawn, will precede the opera.

Roy Whelden will perform on the viola da gamba. Early Music America has called Whelden, who is both a composer and a performer, "a key figure in the world of new music."

Other members of the cast include: Richard Mix (bass) as Neti the Gatekeeper; Elizabeth Henry (mezzo) as Ninshubar, Inanna's servant; Jonathan Nadel (tenor), as the god Enki; and Carmen Sobczak (mezzo) and Therese Gould (alto) as Kurgarra and Galatur. John Kendall Bailey is the conductor.

Pianist/composer Burchard received an MA in Music from Dominican University of California, where she currently teaches piano, composition, and music theory. She has worked with the Sophia Foundation of North American since 1998, providing piano accompaniment for Choreocosmic workshops as well as original compositions, including music for the sacred dramas Parsifal and The Mystery of Love. In 2000, Burchard was sponsored to do on-site research into the musical implications of the famous labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral. This led to a paper on the subject and her composition Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth, portions of which were performed by the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra in 2002. In 2003 a CD was made of her vocal setting of the Sophia Foundation Prayer Sequence. In 2004 her String Trio No. 1 in G minor premiered at Dominican University's Guest Concert Series, and the same year she was commissioned by Contemporary Opera Marin to compose a one-act opera, for which she chose as her theme The Descent of Inanna. She then received an Academic Excellence Grant to present the current expanded, three-act production of the opera.

The Cast:

Karen Clark (contralto), as Inanna: Karen Clark has received international acclaim for her performances in prestigious festivals and concert series with the Joshua Rifkin Back Ensemble, Boston Camerata, Ensemble Sequentia, The Newberry Consort, New York Early Music, Pomerium Musices, and the Waverly Consort. She has recorded music of John Dowland on the Erato label, and is also heard on the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, Dorian, Musica Omnia, MHS, and Focus labels. Ms. Clark holds degrees from the Indiana University School of Music, has taught in the music departments of Princeton University and Swarthmore College, and has served on the workshop faculties of Amherst Early Music, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and the San Francisco Early Music Society.

Deborah Benedict (soprano), as Ereshkigal:
Deborah Benedict is an instructor of voice at the University of California at Berkeley, and Dominican University of California. She sang for 12 years with the San Francisco Opera Company as an extra chorus member. Ms. Benedict received a master's degree in voice from the New England Conservatory of Music and was an apprentice with the Sante Fe Opera, Portland Opera, and Long Beach Opera. She has performed operatic roles on the east coast with the Yale Symphony, New Haven Opera, and Harvard Opera, directed by Peter Sellars, and on the west coast with the Berkeley Opera, West Bay Opera, Diablo Light Opera, San Bernadino Opera, and San Francisco Opera Center. She is serving as music director for The Descent of Inanna.

Marcia Burchard (composer, pianist):
Pianist/composer Marcia Burchard received an MA in Music from Dominican University of California, where she currently teaches piano, composition, and music theory. She served as pianist for the Napa Valley Symphony from 1996 to 1998, and has been a soloist with the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, the Dominican Community Orchestra, and the Santa Rosa Wind Ensemble, performing concertos by Bach, Beethoven, Grieg, and Stravinsky. She has worked with the Sophia Foundation of North American since 1998, providing piano accompaniment for Choreocosmic workshops as well as original compositions, including music for the sacred dramas Parsifal and The Mystery of Love. In 2000 Ms. Burchard was sponsored to do on-site research into the musical implications of the famous labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral. This led to a paper on the subject and her composition Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth, portions of which were performed by the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra in 2002. In 2003 a CD was made of her vocal setting of the Sophia Foundation Prayer Sequence. In 2004 her String Trio No. 1 in G minor was premiered at Dominican University's Guest Concert Series, and the same year she was commissioned by Contemporary Opera Marin to compose a one-act opera, for which she chose as her theme The Descent of Inanna. She then received an Academic Excellence Grant to present the current expanded, three-act production of the opera. The Descent of Inanna represents only one episode in the longer myth, for which she also hopes to have the opportunity to compose an operatic score.

Roy Wheldon (viola da gamba):
Roy Whelden, composer and performer on the viola da gamba, is considered "a key figure in the world of new music" (Early Music America). Some of his compositions have been released on the New Albion label, including Galax-(music for viola da gamba) and Like a Passing River. Recent commissions include Prelude and Fugue State (2004), written for violist Hank Dutt and harpsichordist Kathy Perl. He has performed and recorded with many internationally known ensembles, including Sequentia (Cologne), American Baroque (San Francisco), Ensemble Alcatraz, and Musica Pacifica. After early training in trumpet and cello at the Eastman School of Music and Indiana State University, he moved to viola da gamba and medieval fiddle, which he has taught at various institutions, including the Hoch's Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany.

Geoffrey Gordon (percussionist):
Geoffrey Gordon is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, teacher, and world music producer who has been featured on many popular recordings and movie soundtracks. He has performed on the Broadway stage and has collaborated worldwide with many well-known artists and spiritual teachers, including Ram Dass, Coleman Barks, R. Carlos Nakai, Shiva Rea, Gabrielle Roth, Rita Coolidge, Jai Uttal, Elliott Goldenthall (2002 Academy Award Best Score for Frida), Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and, at Lincoln Center, with Julie Taymor director of Broadway's Lion King and Frida. He performed and recorded The Song of Solomon and Inanna with storyteller Diane Wolkstein, author of Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth), at Lincoln Center (Avery Fischer Hall), the United Nations, the American Museum of Natural History, and many other venues.


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