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Crane Opera Ensemble to Present World Premiere of New Opera, 'Mayo,' by Tom Cipullo

October 25, 2018

Ben Edquist, center, who plays the title role in Tom Cipullo’s new opera, “Mayo,” rehearses with the Crane Opera Ensemble cast in preparation for the world premiere.

SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music is preparing to host the world premiere of a groundbreaking new opera, “Mayo,” by acclaimed composer Tom Cipullo. The Crane Opera Ensemble and Orchestra will unveil its full production of the Pellicciotti Prize-winning work in a series of performances and special events, from Nov. 8 to 11.

Based on a true story, “Mayo” follows the life of Mayo Buckner, who was committed to the Iowa Home for Feeble-Minded Children at the age of eight, and forged a life of quiet dignity and meaning while living there for the next 60 years. Cipullo was the recipient of the 2018 Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize, for which he received a $25,000 commission to complete his winning operatic work.

In a production led by Stage Director Dean Anthony and Music Director Kirk Severtson, the Crane Opera Ensemble will bring Buckner’s story to life—and in the process, shed light on America’s tragic infatuation with eugenics in the early 20th century.

The student cast and orchestra will be joined by two notable guest artists. The rising baritone Ben Edquist will play the title role of Mayo Buckner, while Crane School of Music alumna Lisa Vroman ’79, soprano, will portray Miss Goodrich. Edward “Eddy” Baker, 9, a third grader at Lawrence Avenue Elementary School in Potsdam, will play the role of Young Mayo.

“The Crane School of Music is extraordinarily privileged, through the generosity of its alumnus Dr. Gary C. Jaquay, to present the world premiere of Tom Cipullo's groundbreaking opera ‘Mayo’ as the second Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize production. Bringing this work to the stage—a work with incredible social relevance—both honors the memory of Dr. Jaquay's life partner, in whose name the prize is given, and gives Crane faculty and students the singular opportunity to contribute to the beginning of this opera's story. We know that it will then go on to have significant impact in the wider operatic world. Seeing and hearing Crane students bring this new work to life will be a singularly memorable moment in the life of the School and its opera program,” said Dean Dr. Michael Sitton.

“Mayo” will be presented on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9 and 10, at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Nov. 11 at 3 p.m., in the Sara M. Snell Music Theater. A gala reception will be held in the Performing Arts Center lobby following the Friday evening opening night performance. In addition, there will be an educational outreach performance for students from area schools on Thursday, Nov. 8 (tickets are available by reservation only).

There will also be several special events over the course of the weekend. On Friday, Nov. 9, there will be an in-depth look at “The Making of ‘Mayo,’” in a free session at 1 p.m., in the Ralph Wakefield Recital Hall. On Saturday, Nov. 10, there will be two panel discussions, including “Social Justice Issues in American Opera,” at 10 a.m., and “Creating New Operas and Young Singer Training,” at 11:30 a.m. Both events will take place in Bishop Hall Room C101.

Cipullo was inspired to write the opera after stumbling across an obscure 50-year-old Life magazine article, titled “A Lifetime Thrown Away by a Mistake.” The piece told of how thousands of American children had been placed into institutions from the early 1900s to as late as the ’70s, often spending their entire lives there, based on flawed IQ tests. Mayo Hazeltine Buckner was profiled by the magazine after an updated diagnostic showed that he actually had above average intelligence, 60 years after he had first been committed.

“Mr. Buckner, who became a fine musician while institutionalized, is certainly an unusual hero. Ten years after I first read his name, I no longer recall how or why I became convinced that his story was opera fodder,” Cipullo said. “Perhaps it was the injustice of the situation, or perhaps it was my shock at discovering how deep a footprint had been left, even here in the United States, by the eugenics movement. Maybe I just sensed a certain nobility in the title character, and I didn’t want the memory of his existence to simply disappear without a fight.”

Crane is welcoming several guest designers and musicians for this production. Bobby Bradley is the set designer and Aaron Chvatal is the costume designer. Tonry Lathroum is the lighting designer and Brittany Rappise is the wigs designer. Cori Ellison served as the dramaturg and oversaw supertitle production. M. Maxwell Howard ’12 and Jarrett Larson ’14 served as the rehearsal pianists, while Crane faculty member François Germain supervised vocal preparation. Tom Grabowski is the technical director for the production.

Tickets for the Crane Opera Ensemble production of “Mayo” are $15 for the general public and $10 for SUNY Potsdam faculty, staff and students. To purchase tickets, contact the Community Performance Series Box Office, located in the lobby of SUNY Potsdam's Performing Arts Center, by calling (315) 267-2277 or visiting

The Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize was founded by Dr. Gary C. Jaquay ’67 to honor his life partner, Domenic J. Pellicciotti, an ardent fan of opera. The award seeks to encourage and acknowledge the creation of new opera works that explore themes related to tolerance, inclusion or the celebration of diversity. The award is given every four years.

North Country Public Radio is the media sponsor for this world premiere production.

To learn more about the Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize, visit

About the Crane Opera Ensemble:

The award-winning Crane Opera Ensemble is a significant source for opera and music theatre in the North Country region of New York State. The ensemble provides exciting opportunities for students to experience all facets of opera performance and production, through rehearsals, coaching and classes related to performance practices and production techniques. The ensemble’s productions have garnered awards from the National Opera Association (2015, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2003), The American Prize (2011, 2017), and the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (2010). To learn more, visit

About The Crane School of Music:

Founded in 1886, SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music has a long legacy of excellence in music education and performance. Life at Crane includes an incredible array of more than 300 recitals, lectures and concerts presented by faculty, students and guests each year. The Crane School of Music is the State University of New York’s only All-Steinway institution. For more information, please visit

For Media Inquiries

Jason Hunter, College Communications (315) 267-2114

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