Jennie’s Will

Video from the Performance


Commissioned for the bicentennial of the Town of Dryden, and written by locals Mark Simon and Pamela Monk, Jennie’s Will was first performed in Dryden and at Cornell University in January 1997. The opera centers on an early episode in Cornell University’s history. Jennie McGraw, daughter of Dryden timber tycoon John McGraw, was an early benefactress of Cornell. She donated the set of chimes which still ring on the university campus. Willard Fiske, Cornell’s first librarian, was a scholar with knowledge of over fifty languages, specializing in Icelandic sagas and the poetry of Dante and Petrarch. When Willard first met Jennie in 1869, he immediately began writing love poems about her in secret. Their differing social status made it impossible for them to marry, until her zealously overprotective father died. They married in 1880, but Jenny died eighteen months later of tuberculosis. A protracted legal battle ensued between Cornell and Willard Fiske over her estate, which was eventually won by Fiske in the Supreme Court of the United States. The wounds caused by this fight never fully healed. Many contemporaries considered Fiske a gold digger who married Jennie for her money. The debate among local citizens continues to this day.

Production Information

The cast consists of five women and five men with a six-piece chamber orchestra. Many cast members and production staff are associated with Cornell University and eager for this chance to participate in Cornell’s sesquicentennial celebration. Soprano Karen Wonder Dumont, DVM 2002, will portray Jennie McGraw. Local tenor Mark Lawrence, also the web and communications manager for Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, will portray Willard Fiske. Other cast members include: Robin Booth, Geoffrey Peterson, Elizabeth Banlaki Frank (Assistant Art Director, Cornell Alumni Magazine), Doug Mathews, Stan Stewart, Kristen Park (MS Cornell and Extension Associate, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management), Katrina Kuka, and Daniel A. P. Taylor.

Director Rachel Hockett is co-founding artistic director of Ithaca’s Homecoming Players; an editor of fiction, memoirs, and academic books; the author of two novels; and the founder of the Equality Mantra on Facebook, which advocates for LGBT and marriage equality.

Music and orchestra director William Cowdery has no fewer than three degrees awarded by Cornell University. He serves as musical director and organist of the First Congregational Church of Ithaca and works on the staff of Cornell University’s music library. He is an author, editor, and scholar who has taught at many area universities, appearing widely as a keyboardist and speaker on music in the upstate New York area. Costume design is by Melissa Snyder (ILR Review Journal in the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations), and Stage Manager Ellie Hobbie, also a Cornell alumna, completes the production team.

Cast & Biographies

Robin Booth (Female Conscience) has performed with the Cornell Savoyards, Ithaca Opera, Hangar Theatre, Oswego Opera Theatre, Troika Association, Homecoming Players, and Theatre Incognita. Favorite roles include Buttercup, Katisha, Princess Ida, Iolanthe, Fairy Queen, Mad Margaret, and Edwin Drood with the Savoyards; Hansel, Charlotte Malcolm (A Little Night Music), Suzuki (Madame Butterfly), Diana Deveraux (Of Thee I Sing), and Mother (Amahl and the Night Visitors) with the Ithaca Opera; Liza Elliott (Lady in the Dark) and Renfield (Dracula) with the Troika Association; Holly Gold (In the Car with Blossom and Len) with Homecoming Players. Coming up in May, Robin will appear as Lottie Schoen in Homecoming Players’ production of Lettice and Lovage. She is a member of the Cayuga Vocal Ensemble and is supported in her endeavors by the love of her two wonderful children, Douglas and Nola.

William Cowdery (Music Director) serves as musical director and organist of the First Congregational Church of Ithaca, and works on the staff of Cornell University’s music library. He has taught at Cornell University, Colgate University, Ithaca College and Keuka College, and has appeared widely as a keyboardist and speaker on music in the upstate New York area. Bill authored numerous articles in the New Harvard Dictionary of Music and the Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, co-edited The Compleat Mozart with Neal Zaslaw (Norton), and recently published a string quartet setting of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (Presser).

Karen Wonder Dumont (Jennie McGraw), Cornell DVM 2002, is thrilled to be appearing as Jennie McGraw in this special production. She has appeared recently with the Savoyards as Yum-Yum (Mikado), Mabel (Pirates of Penzance), Josephine (HMS Pinafore), and Rose Maybud (Ruddigore). Favorite musical theater roles include Cunegonde (Candide), Johanna (Sweeney Todd), Kate (Kiss Me Kate), and Ruby (Dames at Sea). Karen has performed as a soloist in Orff’s Carmina Burana in Cortland and, most recently, in collaboration with local composer Christopher Morgan Loy. She also often appears with Women’s Works, as a guest of the Savage Club, and with the Cayuga Vocal Ensemble. Karen works behind the scenes as well, as a producer and president of the Savoyards. In “real life” Dr. Dumont practices medicine at Adana Veterinary Clinic in Freeville and lives on South Hill with her husband Chad, 3 wonderful boys, 4 cats, and a crazy puppy named Daisy.

Lisa Banlaki Frank (Lettie McGraw) was last seen as Casca in Ithaca Shakespeare Co.’s all-female production of Julius Caesar. She was Katisha in The Mikado with the Cornell Savoyards last summer. Previous Savoyard shows at the Schwartz Center: Ruddigore (Hannah), Pirates of Penzance (Kate), H.M.S. Pinafore (Hebe), and Mikado (Pitti-Sing). Other shows at Cornell: Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music and Bernstein’s MASS, both at the Schwartz Center. One of her favorite recent roles was Abigail Adams in 1776. She has performed with various other groups in the area, including Merry-Go-Round and Cortland Rep. Lisa is also a vocalist and sings with several groups, including the Cayuga Vocal Ensemble.

Ellie Hobbie (Stage Manager) comes from a four-generation Cornell family. She started doing Gilbert and Sullivan at twelve and has performed with four different groups, including the Savoyards. At eighteen she discovered the joys of tech and has done a mixture of singing and backstage work ever since. She lives in the wilds of Enfield and, after a checkered career, now works for an art book company.

Rachel Hockett (Director) was born and raised in Ithaca, and returned in 2010, after forty years elsewhere. She is the co-founding artistic director of Homecoming Players. As a member of the first class of women at Yale, she studied with Lynne Meadow, Walter Dallas, and Nikos Psacharopoulos. She co-founded OOBA West-Park Theatre in New York (1975-1980). Rachel acted in the inaugural season of the Ithaca Summer Repertory, stage managed at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and directed at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre and with the Shotgun Players in Berkeley, California. She has taught acting to students aged 4 to 18 in New York and California, and is the author of two novels.

Katrina Kuka (Robella) is excited to be returning for a third production with the Cornell Savoyards in Jennie’s Will. Previous stage credits include Peep-Bo in The Mikado (2014), Ruth/Bridesmaid’s Chorus in Ruddigore (2013), and the Witch in Hansel and Gretel with the Ithaca Opera Studio (2010). Recently, she conducted the Melodramatics Theatre Company’s presentation of Pippin (2014) and is also musical directing the Trumansburg Middle School’s production of The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree this spring. She thanks Rachel Hockett and Bill Cowdery for their time and energy in bringing a local story to life on a regional stage.

Mark A.B. Lawrence (Will), lyric tenor, leads an active performing career in opera, oratorio, musical theatre, and recital literature. His operatic performances include Cosi Fan Tutte, Die Fledermaus, Die Zauberflöte, La Périchole, Amahl and the Night Visitors, Warren Martin’s The True Story of Cinderella,Pauline Viardot’s Cendrillon and Last Sorcerer, and the title role in Randall Davidson’s The Fourth Wise Man. As an oratorio soloist, he has sung Bach’s St. John Passion, Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem Mass, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Stainer’s Daughter of Jairus, and Honegger’s King David. Mark portrayed John Adams in the New Mercury Theatre production of 1776, and Tom in Kitchen Theatre’s Mozart Mystery. His recording of song cycles by Nicholas A. Ascioti, Creation’s Voice, is available through Mark received his M.M. from Ithaca College and has studied with Cornelius Reid, Gary Norden, Neva Pilgrim, Richard Crittenden, and Roland Bentley. He works at Cornell University as web and communications manager in the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, and lives in Ithaca with his wife, conductor/educator Jennifer Lawrence Birnbaum, and son Zeke.

Doug Mathews (Andrew Dickson White) has been performing with the Cornell Savoyards for more than 20 years. He has been seen on the Schwartz Center stage as part of Cornell’s annual free summer event series in the roles of Major General Stanley inThe Pirates of Penzance, Sir Joseph Porter in H.M.S. Pinafore, Sir Despard Murgatroyd in Ruddigore, and most recently Ko Ko in The Mikado. Doug was part of the original cast of Jennie’s Will (as Mathias), when the piece premiered in Dryden in 1997. When not on stage, Doug works as a data quality assurance analyst with a famous marketing information company.

Kristen Park (Mrs. Fiske) has been frequently seen performing in operetta and musical theater in the area. In addition to theater, she has sung with the Ithaca Community Chorus and Chamber Singers, the Delaware Valley Opera, the Renaissance Singers, and the choir of the First Presbyterian Church of Dryden, where she has lived since 1992. She is also on the boards of Music’s Recreation and Cornell Savoyards and is a founding member of Women’s Works. Kris is an Extension Associate and holds an MS from Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. She works as a market researcher at Cornell.

Geoffrey Peterson (Male Conscience) is a classically trained baritone from Trumansburg, NY. Currently studying with Steve O’Mara. Recent performances include The Mikado (Savoyards), and 1776 (New Mercury Theater). Peterson is also an accomplished director, music director, and light technician, working for Trumansburg Central School District, Encore Theater Players, Risley Theater, Melodramatics Theater Company, Running to Places Theater, and 4H Camp Owahta. He is the current director for the middle school drama club at Trumansburg Central School District.

Melissa Snyder (Costume Designer) An Ithaca native, Melissa has been making costumes for the theater since her high school days in the Niagara Falls area, and assisted in the costume department of the Greater Buffalo Opera Company while attending SUNY at Buffalo. She has been involved with the Savoyards since 2003 as a performer, director, producer, writer, and costumer; and is the last in a long family line of resourceful seamstresses. She has had the good fortune to have the best costume talent in the area working with her on Jennie’s Will.

Stan Stewart (John McGraw/Douglas Boardman) recently moved to Ithaca from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where he performed locally and internationally (Australia, Spain, Canada) in improvisation (music, dance, storytelling) and a variety of musical acts. He enjoys collaborations with other artists and has an online portfolio that presents some of those collaborations. Stan is glad to be making friends and arts connections around his new home, including this performance which has already been a source of both of these.

Daniel A.P. Taylor (Mathias) is a trained singer, dancer, and actor. He has trained with Patrice Pastore and Ivy Walz at the Ithaca College School of Music, and Eliza VanCort at the Actor’s Workshop of Ithaca. Favorite roles include Ser Amantio di Nicolao, Gianni Schicchi; St. Thomas Aquinas/Tim/Doctor, Mitzi’s Abortion; Man, Closer Than Ever. Daniel is also a proud member of Cayuga Vocal Ensemble. By day, Daniel is a graphic designer and technologist working at the Ithaca College Library. His portfolio and C.V. can be seen at

View the program for Jennie’s Will