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Law prof looks forward to the world premiere of her opera

September 15, 2008
News Photo
Cathy Lesser Mansfield during a rehearsal at Hoyt Sherman Place

Cathy Lesser Mansfield epitomizes the Renaissance law professor.

 

She's a nationally recognized expert on subprime and predatory lending who warned Congress about the current credit crisis back in 2000 when she testified before the House Banking Committee.

Since then, she's been advocating tighter regulation of lenders through her publications and involvement with Americans for Fairness in Lending and the National Association of Consumer Advocates. She's lectured across the country and been interviewed on National Public Radio and quoted in The New York Times and Consumer Reports magazine.

While striving to orchestrate reform in the mortgage industry, Mansfield -- a classically trained musician -- also has been researching, writing and composing an opera about the Holocaust.

"I hope to honor the memory of the victims and heroes of the Holocaust," Mansfield said, "and give meaning to the phrase 'Never Again' by inspiring people to pay attention to what is going on today in places like Darfur."

The world premiere of Mansfield's opera, "The Sparks Fly Upward," will take place at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines on Nov. 8 -- the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. On that Night of the Broken Glass, Nazi thugs moved through the cities of Germany, smashing the windows of Jewish homes and shops, burning synagogues and attacking Jews.

"The Sparks Fly Upward" tells a story of fear, faith and hope. The opera focuses on three German families in Berlin -- two Jewish and one Christian.


News Photo
The opera features historical photographs from the archives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Jewish families, with the assistance of the Christian family,
struggle to outlast Hitler. Throughout the story, the three families
turn to the Book of Job for reassurance and enlightenment. The
suffering of Job, and the contest between good and evil represented in
his story, are reflected in the lives of the German Jewish community
and their non-Jewish neighbors, who face the immediate question of
man's obligation to man in times of moral and political crisis.

A Cleveland native, Mansfield studied at the Cincinnati
Conservatory of Music before transferring to New York University, where
she became interested in law and social justice. She went on to earn
her law degree at the University of Virginia and practiced law in
Phoenix before joining Drake Law School in 1996.

The research skills Mansfield honed as an attorney proved useful as
she created an opera woven from the stories of those who experienced
the Holocaust. Her research took her to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington, D.C., the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, the
Jewish Museum and the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin. She also scoured
countless unpublished biographies of Holocaust survivors,
contemporaneous news accounts and books.

Drake law professor Jerry L. Anderson assisted Mansfield by
interpreting German documents and memoirs, as well as contributing some
music and lyrics.

"I decided that it was very important that the piece be
historically accurate," Mansfield said, "so it could memorialize what
happened, educate the public and oppose the revisionist historians who
claim the Holocaust never happened."

The world premiere will feature:

  • A talented cast that includes Drake music professors Leanne
    Freeman-Miller and Christine Blanner along with several Drake students
  • A 37-piece orchestra under the direction of Des Moines Symphony Maestro Joseph Giunta
  • Historical images from the archives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Members of the Des Moines Choral Society portraying citizens of Berlin


News PhotoDirecting the production is Timothy X. Troy, chair of the
Department of Theater Arts at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.
Troy holds a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Arts/Directing from the
University of Iowa and has directed numerous plays and operas, including "La Boheme," "La Traviata" and "The Magic Flute."

Tickets, which range from $17 for students to $47 for adults and
$67 for box seats, are available at the Hoyt Sherman Place Box Office (515-244-0199) and through TicketMaster.

"The Sparks Fly Upward" has received grant funding from the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation, Humanities Iowa, Iowa Arts Council and the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines. Numerous private donations have been made as well.

Mansfield is on sabbatical this year. She's devoting most of the
fall semester to managing the myriad details involved in bringing "The
Sparks Fly Upward" to the stage.

During the spring semester, she'll return her attention to subprime
lending. She plans to conduct research in a Cleveland neighborhood
plagued by real estate foreclosures to determine what might have
happened there under a different set of lending regulations.