Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Opera Colorado Introduces 2016–17 Young Artists

Opera Colorado Young Artists Class of 2016–17©2016 Jamie Kraus Photography
Early last Friday evening (September 23, 2016), an admiring audience got its first look at the Opera Colorado Young Artists Class of 2016–17. Guests gathered at The Loft, the smaller music venue above the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, where they were treated to a selection of arias by these six talented vocalists, ably accompanied at the piano by Lori Milbier.

In her remarks that preceded the musical portion of the program, Cherity Koepke, Young Artists director—she is also in charge of education and community outreach—discussed how this program differs from those operated by other opera companies across the country. “We presume they know how to sing,” she declared, prompting hearty laughter from the audience. Instead, as she explained, Opera Colorado chooses to focus on the performance aspect of the craft. This includes such important elements as stage presence, movement, and acting. She also stated this is one of the few U.S. programs with day-to-day, hands-on engagement by the general director. Greg Carpenter is enjoying his ninth year as the company's general director.

The ensemble will also benefit from regular coaching sessions with music director and principal conductor, Ari Pelto. However, to dispel any concerns their vocal skills will be ignored, Koepke announced that Opera Colorado has engaged the services of vocal coach Daniel Belcher for the season—himself a former Opera Colorado alumnus, having sung Dandini in Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Mercutio in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, among other roles. He also won a Grammy Award in 2010 for his contribution on the recording of Katia Saariaho’s opera, L'Amour de Loin.

These six singers will take on three basic responsibilities during their eight-month tenure. First, they serve as “covers” (understudies) for the season’s primary singers, with the expectation they would step onto the stage in the event of illness or some other incapacity. Second, they sing the “comprimario” (secondary) roles one finds in most operas—servants, pages, messengers and sidekicks—who may have as few as a couple of vocal lines but help flesh out the plot. Finally, they perform primary roles in student matinees and touring productions, which serve as a welcome outreach to new audiences and out-of-the-way places throughout Colorado.

Between main stage performances, touring productions, and student matinee productions, these six singers are expected to perform in front of more than 37,000 people by the time their tenure is complete in May 2017.

Whether in major or minor roles, each of these young artists will appear on stage in this season’s two remaining Opera Colorado productions: La Fanciulla del West by Giacomo Puccini, and Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti.

This season’s singers are as follows (listed in order of Friday's vocal appearance):

Charles Eaton (baritone) is one of two artists from this group who was invited back for a second year. He grew up in Connecticut, was awarded a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota, and made his professional debut in 2013 in Mark Adamo’s Little Women with the Hartford Opera Theater. He will appear as Bello in Fanciulla and sing the main baritone role of Enrico in the student matinee performance of Lucia. Mr. Eaton performed “Largo al factotum” from Giacchino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Ryan Bradford (baritone) was raised in the San Francisco Bay area and earned a master’s degree from the S.F. Conservatory of Music. He has previous “young artist” experience with the Shreveport (La.) Opera, where he was involved in several of their productions. He will appear as Happy in Fanciulla and sing the role of Belcore in the company’s touring production of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love. Mr. Bradford sang an aria from Vincente Bellini’s I Puritani.

Allison Nicholas (soprano) hails from St. John’s, Newfoundland, and earned multiple degrees from New York’s Manhattan School of Music. Her professional experience includes secondary roles in The Merry Widow (Lehar) and La Traviata (Giuseppe Verdi) with Pensacola Opera. She will appear as Adina in the touring production of Elixir and as the title character in the student matinee performance of Lucia. Ms. Nicholas performed “Quando me'n vo” from Puccini’s La Bohème.

Omar Najmi (tenor) is originally from Boston and spent the previous three seasons as an “emerging artist” with the Boston Lyric Opera. He performed with that company in such operas as Kat’ya Kabanová (Leos Janáček), Rigoletto (Verdi) and W.A. Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. He will appear as Joe in Fanciulla and sing the main tenor role of Edgardo in the student matinee performance of Lucia. Mr. Najmi sang an aria from Verdi’s Falstaff.

Danielle Lombardi (mezzo-soprano) is the second member of this group to return as a Young Artist. She is from Erie, Pennsylvania, and has earned degrees from Oberlin College and Rice University. Last year she sang in the main stage Opera Colorado productions of George Bizet’s Carmen and Verdi’s Aida. She will appear as Wowkle in Fanciulla and as Adina in Lucia. Ms. Lombardi performed an aria from Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman.

Nathan Van Arsdale (bass-baritone) is a Colorado native; he was born in Colorado Springs. He received a master’s degree from the University of Nevada/Las Vegas. His professional accomplishments include singing in the world premiere of the Virko Baley opera, Holodomor: Red Earth Hunger at Lincoln Center in New York. He will appear as Billy Jackrabbit in Fanciulla and as Raimondo in the student matinee performance of Lucia. Mr. Van Arsdale sang “Vous, qui faites l’endormie” from Charles Gounod’s Faust.

Following a brief interview by Ms. Koepke with each of the soloists, the ensemble concluded the program with a selection of Broadway show tunes.

Opera Colorado will present four performances of La Fanciulla del West on November 5–8–11–13, 2016, plus four performances of Lucia di Lammermoor on May 6–9–12–14, 2017. The company makes its home at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, part of the Denver Center of the Performing Arts complex at 14th and Curtis in downtown Denver. Single-performance tickets for both productions are currently on sale and may be purchased online, or in person at the Opera Colorado offices on South Colorado Boulevard in Denver.

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