North American premiere of Owens opera is Aug. 7

· 3 min read

North American premiere of Owens opera is Aug. 7

Pianist Denis Plutalov asks a question of composer Robert Owens during Owens’ visit to UNL in March. Photo by Michael Reinmiller.
Pianist Denis Plutalov asks a question of composer Robert Owens during Owens’ visit to UNL in March. Photo by Michael Reinmiller.

The Glenn Korff School of Music will present the North American premiere of composer Robert Owens’ opera “Culture! Culture!” at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7 in the Studio Theatre, located on the first floor of the Temple Building.

Tickets are free, but must be reserved in advance. Tickets are available at

The fully staged chamber opera will be accompanied by piano.

The performance is a culmination of assistant professor of voice Jamie Reimer’s eight-year collaboration with Owens to study his music and bring it to a wider audience.

“This is sort of the cherry on top for me,” Reimer said. “I’ve always loved his vocal music, and I knew that this opera existed and have sung and given lectures on it. But it’s been this natural and organic evolution of this relationship I’ve been building since 2007.

The performance will be the North American premier of the opera, which Owens wrote in Hamburg, Germany, in 1961 and premiered in Ulm, Germany, in 1970.

Jeff McCray, associate professor of bassoon, is the musical director who will be conducting, and William Shomos, Hixson-Lied professor and director of opera, is stage directing. Students, faculty, alumni and community members will be in the cast.

Owens, who is nearly 90 years old, was on campus in March to work with students in the Glenn Korff School of Music on his music, and he plans to return for the performance in August.

“My music, there are certain things you have to know about in the way of singing it,” Owens said. “I’m very excited and very pleased [UNL is performing it]. It hasn’t been performed since 1970 in Germany.”

The opera’s plot centers on the intersection of the artist and the business of making music.

“The focal figure is a tenor, Paul, who is on the brink of a spectacular career, and he’s discovering that his time is being spent less on the making of music, and more on the business of music,” Reimer said. “And it’s the process by which he does or does not work through that in the pursuit of his career.”

The subplot involves Tobias, a composer, who has written what he thinks is his life’s masterpiece, an oratorio. He desperately wants Paul to sing it.

“And by means of lots of plot devices, they end up together intoxicated in a bar talking about this,” Reimer said. “Paul not knowing that Tobias is a composer, and Tobias knowing Paul is a famous and gifted tenor. There’s a love interest for Tobias, and a very overbearing producer and manager that try to manipulate the situation for their benefit. It’s universal to anyone who is trying to make great art, and it’s a little scathing of those that assist in the making of great art.”

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