Folks from the Kentucky Opera were in town Wednesday night to celebrate their new collaboration with the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville's music schools.
In the new Studio Artist program, a select group of students from both schools will spend most of their year in Louisville working with the Kentucky Opera as supporting players in productions, understudying major roles and working in education and outreach programs. Kentucky Opera general director David Roth said the singers will spend one day a week at school, taking voice lessons and such. But the rest of the time they will be in Louisville, working with the opera.
Attendees at the soiree at the Tuska Gallery in Lexington got a sampling of the UK students in the program this year -- due to scheduling conflicts, U of L won't begin its involvement until next year. Tenors Chuck Chandler and Mark Kano sang arias from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Soprano Amelia Groetsch followed with one of Leonara’s big hits from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. But it was soprano Afton Battle who shook the rafters with her rendition of In questa reggia, the title character’s big entrance in Puccini’s Turandot.
(If you were thinking, like me, "Soprano . . . big voice . . . last name Battle . . . " yes, she is a distant cousin of Kathleen.)
“She gave me goosebumps, which I didn’t think was possible in this heat,” University of Kentucky Opera Theatre supporter Louise Shouse said of Battle's performance.
Shouse, a longtime UK Opera supporter loved the idea of the collaborative program, saying it will give the UK students greater opportunities to be seen in the Kentucky Opera productions.
Naomi Broida, who has long been active supporting Kentucky Opera and UK Opera, liked the chance it will give UK students to work with seasoned, professional opera singers, and she also saw a benefit for Kentucky Opera in terms of attracting a Lexington audience.
"A lot of people have become active supporting UK Opera, and this will give them a greater incentive to go to Louisville and see Kentucky Opera," Broida said.
In turn, Roth said he hoped the collaboration with UK would generate interest in Louisville for UK Opera productions.
"We're not here to compete with what you are doing," Roth said, adding that he was very excited to come see the Oct. 12-20 production of Thomas Pasatieri's Hotel Casablanca. UK and the San Francisco Opera collaborated on the "multi-location world premier" of the new work.
Roth said he hoped that the Studio Artist Program would become a model for opera companies around the country, and that Kentucky Opera's program could expand to involve more area universities and students.
Organizers of the program said it was not lost on them that they were bringing traditional rivals together in UK and U of L. But they expressed confidence they could make beautiful music together.
“We had a similar event last weekend in Louisville, and everybody was happy,” UK Opera Theatre director, Everett McCorvey, said to the crowd. Roth added, "There wasn’t a basketball in the place."