Franklin County

Kentucky's ‘Lincoln' heads to U.S. capital

FRANKFORT — When University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey was readying the Our Lincoln program for the stage of the Singletary Center for the Arts in February, he called it a “Kennedy Center Honors”-style production.

Next February, McCorvey will, in fact, take the multifaceted show to the Kennedy Center.

On Tuesday morning in the Kentucky Capitol rotunda, Gov. Steve Beshear and lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler joined McCorvey and co-producer Virginia Carter to announce that Our Lincoln will be presented at the venerable Washington venue on Feb. 2, a week and a half before the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.

In lauding the event, officials emphasized the first word of the program's title: our.

Beshear noted Lincoln's birthplace in Hodgenville and that he “grew up to be one of the greatest presidents, who steadfastly guided our nation through its darkest days. ... We will continue to tout Kentucky's ties to him with this presentation of Our Lincoln.

The program premiered Feb. 10 at UK's Singletary Center for the Arts and included a performance of Aaron Copland's orchestral work Lincoln Portrait, a recitation of The Gettysburg Address by Kentucky Chautauqua performer Jim Sayre, an excerpt from Kentucky Repertory Theatre's production of the play One Man's Lincoln, and portions of UK-based composer Joseph Baber's new opera River of Time, about Lincoln's early years in Kentucky.

At the end of Tuesday's news conference, UK Opera singers Mark Golson and Denisha Ballew performed an excerpt of the opera that drew curious government workers out of their offices.

“It will be a blessing,” Ballew said of the Kennedy Center performance, which is not strictly tied to other Lincoln bicentennial celebrations. “All performers have a desire to perform in a venue of that stature.”

In all, 375 artists and technicians will travel to Washington for the performance. Among those will be the Lexington Singers, the American Spiritual Ensemble and the UK Symphony Orchestra. Though talent is drawn from around the state, the program is quite Lexington-based, which Mayor Jim Newberry said “is an incredible tribute to the Lexington arts community.”

Of the February performance, Newberry says he was struck by how “it was so evidently big-time. This was not the kind of performance you often encounter outside of major venues.”

The Kennedy Center performance will be even more grandiose, with additional elements such as world-renowned fiddler Mark O'Connor and Metropolitan Opera singer Angela Brown, who has frequently sung with the Lexington-based American Spiritual Ensemble.

Nick Clooney will again serve as the emcee.

Carter, executive director of the Kentucky Humanities Council, said she is busy rounding out the program.

Carter also said there is about $150,000 worth of fund-raising to be done before the midwinter trip.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for corporations and private sponsors to be part of this event that will put our state in the spotlight,” she said.

Chandler summed up the event.

“This is a perfect example of why support for the arts and humanities is important,” he said. “We're Kentuckians, and our story is important to our nation's story.”