Press Release

VocalEssence Brings Back Beloved Minnesota Legend Paul Bunyan for April 2013 Opera Production

WCCO-TV Anchorman Don Shelby and Prairie Home
Companion Ballad Singer Pop Wagner Team Up with VocalEssence Chorus &
Ensemble Singers

Contact: Katrina Vander Kooi

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN (Jan. 29, 2013) — Hearing the tale of Paul Bunyan is a rite of passage
in Minnesota.  After 30 years on the
range, Bunyan and Babe, his big blue ox, are returning to Minneapolis with VocalEssence
which first staged the work in 1987. 
Directed by Vern Sutton and
conducted by VocalEssence Artistic Director Philip Brunelle, both of whom directed and produced the 1987
version, the Paul Bunyan performance
will consist of a semi-staged production featuring WCCO-TV anchorman Don Shelby (pictured) as the voice of Paul Bunyan
with music incorporating a variety of American styles, including folk songs,
blues and hymns. 

Paul Bunyan, composed by Benjamin Britten and based on the libretto
of W.H. Auden, will include a cast of a dozen solo roles including A Prairie Home Companion ballad singer
Pop Wagner, the VocalEssence Chorus & Ensemble Singers, and a 41-piece
orchestra.  There will be one character
who you will hear but never see – Paul Bunyan, because he was larger than life.

The two performances of Paul Bunyan will take place on Friday,
April 26, 2013 at 8 pm and Saturday, April 27 at 8 pm at Ted Mann Concert Hall
in Minneapolis. Tickets for Paul Bunyan
are $23.50-$43.50 (Service charges apply. Student tickets are half-price and
group discounts are available.) For tickets and information, call 612-371-5656 or visit

Performed during the 100th
anniversary year of Benjamin Britten’s birth, the Paul Bunyan operetta, which he wrote in 1941, pays homage to
American music, especially that of Broadway. 
The story begins with a forest of trees, then camp is set up, a leader
is chosen, and cooks come and go. Paul hires a bookkeeper and sires a
daughter.  And, in lieu of creature
comforts, the lumberjacks adopt two cats and a dog. Five young trees, four
Swedes, four cronies, three geese, a Western Union boy on a bicycle and sundry
other voices further enliven the proceedings. After contests of strength in
leadership and love, the camp community breaks up to pursue separate futures.

Throughout all this hustle
and bustle, Britten’s music charms, touching on styles as diverse as the
forests: jazz, hymn, oratorio, love ballad, burlesque and more than once,
exceptional sound-painting of the natural scene.  Paul
is a performance that concert goers of all ages will enjoy.

The music of Benjamin Britten
has been prominent with VocalEssence over the past 44 years with performances
of many a cappella choral pieces as well his children’s opera, Noye’s
his Spring Symphony for chorus, soloists and orchestra and
his late orchestral work, A Time There Was: Suite on English Folk
In addition to the performance of Paul Bunyan in 1987,
VocalEssence also toured the production to the prestigious Benjamin Britten Aldeburgh
festival in Great Britian.  At
that time they made the premiere recording for Virgin Classics which won the
English Gramophone prize (like our Grammys) for the Best Opera Recording of the
year in 1988.


Born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, on the east coast of
England, on November 22, 1913, Britten composed music vigorously as a child, but
he nonetheless felt the importance of some solid guidance and in 1928 turned to
the composer Frank Bridge.  Two years
later he attended the Royal College of Music in London, studying with Arthur
Benjamin, Harold Samuel and John Ireland.

Britten found himself in
the United States at the outset of World War II and stayed here for three more
years, returning to Britain in 1942. In America he produced a number of important
works, among them the orchestral Sinfonia da Requiem, the song-cycle Les
for high voice and strings and the opera Paul Bunyan. The
opera was premiered at Columbia University in New York in May, 1941.  Back in Britain, where as a conscientious
objector he was excused military service, he began work on the piece that would
establish him beyond question as the pre-eminent British composer of his
generation – the opera Peter Grimes, which premiered to an ecstatic
reaction on June 7, 1945.


Called “one of the
irreplaceable music ensembles of our time” by Dana Gioia, past chairman of the
National Endowment for the Arts, VocalEssence was founded in 1969 by Artistic
Director Philip Brunelle. Recognized internationally for its innovative
exploration of music for voices and instruments, the organization presents an
engaging collection of concerts featuring the 130-voice VocalEssence Chorus,
the 32-voice Ensemble Singers (well known for their appearances on A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison
Keillor), guest soloists and instrumentalists. In addition to championing
lesser-known works of the past, VocalEssence has an unwavering commitment to
today’s composers resulting in more than 145 commissions and world premieres to
date. VocalEssence has released thirteen commercial recordings, including four
WITNESS CDs of music by African American composers and artists available on the
Clarion label. 2011 saw the release of a new CD, From the Land of Sky Blue Waters, featuring music from the North Star Tour, a six-stop tour of
Minnesota’s Hwy 23.