Katharina von Bora

Katharina von Bora is an historical, non-religious opera written by conductor and composer Mihai Valcu, with lyrics by Bill Zeiger.

In his critique after the opera’s premiere, November 7, 2015, Dr. Edward S. Groves, wrote: “The absolutely beautiful, soaring, unforgettable melodies”of this work set it “above many others.”

Why would someone in the twenty-first century write an opera based on beautiful melodies? Katharina von Bora is written from the point of view of an opera conductor, not of a composer. The modern composer will display knowledge of compositional science by using a variety of contemporary writing techniques. The opera conductor, however, shares the room with the audience during the performance, and apprehends their sense of what they want to see and hear when they come to the opera. He knows that every audience member after a day of having to deal unceasingly with the sonic and visual agitation of the alarm clock, the microwave, the car engine, traffic horns, the copy machine at work, mobile phones with their multitude of ringtones, and a myriad of other harsh and ungovernable stimuli, one longs for more soothing, agreeable sounds.

In the evening, that person may have tickets to the opera. Once in his seat, he savors an hour of repose, of escape to a fantasy world suggested by colorful costumes, elegant sets, complementary lights, leaping dancers, soaring voices, melodies and harmonies woven into a tapestry of orchestral sound. The composer of Katharina von Bora wished to provide just such a respite from the world, to give his audience a few moments of joy, of warmth for soul and spirit and forgetfulness of daily strife. He believes that culture is the heart of civilization and when culture disappears, humankind will also disappear. That is why his cherished goal was to attract the new, young audience next to the regular opera-goers in the performance. Today the opera house hardly attracts young people, especially in competition with electronics that bring to young ears a cacophony of seductive but uninspiring sounds. This plan was easy to conceive, but putting it into practice was tricky- not because it is hard to write either classical or pop style music, but because it is difficult to appeal to both audiences simultaneously. One does not want to bore the young audience when the music sounds like Verdi, nor to exasperate opera lovers with lighter melodies. Librettist Zeiger preserved historical truth as much as possible, and Valcu combined the sounds of Renaissance, Romantic and Classical music with the atmosphere of pop. The sonorities’ roots of the opera, Katharina von Bora can be found in the music of the Protestant reformation and in the styles of accomplished Saxon composers of the 16th to 18th centuries-Michael Praetorius, Handel and J. S. Bach.

On the other hand, the soprano who sings Katharina and the tenor who sings Hieronymus Baumgartner need classically trained voices as well as the color of pop. From the pit they are accompanied by an orchestral ensemble composed of both classical and pop elements.

Any director who will do this work is expressly requested to stage it in the customary manner, in traditional sets and dress. The subject presents Katharina’s life in the 16th century from the age of five to the day she dies. This long period of time described in the opera results in a big cast, and necessarily involves some roles which are brief and passing; therefore, sometimes one person can play two, three, or even four roles in this piece. 

The work is written in three acts – twenty musical numbers played without interruption except for the change of acts where the captivating music fascinates and enthralls the audience for more than two and a half hours.

The Collaborators

Mihai Vâlcu – Composer/Professional Conductor graduated from the Special School of Music and Arts in French Horn and the Conservatory of Music “Georges Enesco” in conducting and composition. His first engagement was as principal conductor at Bucovina Symphony Orchestra. In 1982 he was awarded the title “Artist of the Year” of Romania and became the conductor of one of the most important musical institutions in Romania, the State Opera, Timisoara.  During this time he was guest conductor in symphony and opera orchestras throughout his country. In 1986 he began his international career in the former communist countries of UdSSR, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. After the Romanian Revolution and the fall of the Iron Curtain he became principal conductor at Eduard von Winterstein Theater in Germany. From this point on his international career extended into Western Europe (Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Holland, and Belgian). Working as  a freelance conductor since 1999 and adjunct conductor of Opera Westminster and Mihai Vâlcu has also enjoyed assisting Dr. Anne Hagan Bentz in building the opera program at Westminster  College. Dr. William Zeiger – Librettist -Recently retired Associate Professor of English at Slippery Rock University, Dr. Zeiger serves as Member of the Board of Temple Hadar Israel and on the Board of Advisers to Historic Warner Cascade Theatre Museum, both of New Castle, PA. He has three grown sons and is now remarried and lives with wife Janet in Bethel Park, PA Dr. Anne Hagan Bentz, Editor and Stage Director of this production an Associate Professor of Voice, Head of the Voice Area and Director of the opera program at Westminster. A native of Silver Spring, Dr. Bentz holds a BMUED from the University of Delaware, a degree in vocal performance from the Hochschule für Musik and Theater in Hannover, Germany and a DMA in vocal Performance from the University of Maryland. Ms. Bentz received her first operatic engagement at the Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe, Germany which was followed by engagements with opera companies at the Landestheater Flensburg and at Eduard von Winterstein Theater in Annaberg,. Ms. Bentz is an active performing member of the Friday Morning Music Club, Member of the Tri State Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, a member of the honor society, Phi Kappa Phi, Vice President of the New Castle Music Club and a frequent recitalist locally and in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. Dr. Bentz is also the Stage director of Opera Westminster and Executive Director of The New Castle Lyric Opera which has sponsored many local events and the popular internship program in the schools, “The Human Voice.”