Chautauqua Opera Co. Prepare for a Promising Season with Annual Sing-in

Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
The 2014 Chautauqua Opera Young Artists gather on the Norton Hall stage following Monday evening’s sing-in.

Opera singers, 27 in total, took the stage last Monday evening at Norton Hall for the Chautauqua Opera Company’s introductory sing-in. Called an “Evening of Arias,” the soireé was not only geared toward introducing Chautauquans to this season’s young sopranos, mezzos, tenors and basses, but also a means of introducing the artists to their summer-long endeavor at the Institution.

And the new artists made a shining debut. Rebekah Howell, soprano, sang bel canto with Friederich von Flotow’s “Den Teuren zu vershohnen,” her hands resting gently on her abdomen. Elizabeth Tredent, mezzo, lit up the stage in her violet gown, singing “Signore, ascolta” from Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot.” Raehann Bryce-Davis, mezzo-soprano from New York City, demonstrated her vocal range and vibrant trills, performing Francesco Cilea’s “Acerba voluttà.”  And bass-baritone Brad Walker closed the show personifying the comical Don Magnifico, from Gioacchino Giocchino Rossini’s La Cenerentola, stomping around in the spotlight, wide-eyed as he chastised his idle “figli,” the audience.

Brandon Coleman, a bass-baritone from Indiana, shook the foundations of Norton Hall, belting out a selection from Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, “Come dal ciel precipita.” Coleman said that his voice “hit tenor” in seventh grade, and dropped to basso soon after.

“It got so low to the point that I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to be able to sing [musicals] anymore,’” he said. “But I soon found opera.”

Now at Chautauqua, Coleman finds himself part of a unique experience — living in a century-old house, Connolly Residence Hall, with 30 other opera singers is just one facet. Coleman, like his fellow “opera campers,” are not just looking forward to more on-stage time, but also acquainting themselves with the historic grounds of the Institution.                                                                                                                                       “I tried researching Chautauqua before I came here,” Coleman said. “But you can’t really prepare yourself for a place like this. And only now that I’m here, I can see why.”

Andrew Lunsford, a tenor from Denver, sang airy highs in Puccini’s “Nessun dorma.” A graduate of Indiana University, Lunsford said that his anticipation for this 2014 opera season stems mainly from Chautauquan culture. The opera company, he said, is inevitably affected.

“What’s unique about this group, the artists here, is that there’s no animosity at all, there’s no egos,” Lunsford said. “Everyone here seems like a big family. It’s rare that you find that anywhere else, at any other [young artist program].”

Although the company’s main stage performances were cut from four to two in 2010, the production staff continues to stress quality over quantity. Melissa Orlov, a member of the Chautauqua Opera Guild, affirms that it’s all about content.

“I don’t think we should focus on the previous budget cuts, but more so on the wonderful productions we have coming up this season,” she said. “We’re still doing amazing things with opera, and professional development is still very vibrant.”

Among the company’s productions this season are Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, debuting July 5, and
The Ballad of Baby Doe — running July 25 and 28 — which align to the opera company theme of “America’s Expansion: East and West.” That theme complements the inter-arts collaboration of “Go West!” Introductory Operalogues, hosted by Jay Lesenger, celebrating 20 years as general/artistic director of Chautauqua Opera Company, will take place before each show.

In addition, the young artists will present a concert of opera highlights July 12 and a Pops concert with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. The studio artists will also be presenting weekly art songs recitals in trio, a concert of opera scenes and a revue on Thursday afternoons in the Hall of Christ.

For Chautauqua newcomers and returnees, this season is sure be a hit — come o non come precipita, rain or shine.