Opera Fort Collins, there is “Nothing to fear from opera!”

Sopranos Shannon Murray (left) and Julianna Espinosa with mezzo-soprano Brittani Farrell join voices in John Duke’s Captain Lovelock, presented by UNC Opera Theatre Chamber Opera Festival, Union Colony Civic Center Hensel Phelps Theatre, October 2015. Photo compliments of OFC

by Marty Metzger
North Forty News

Opera is merely booming voices singing foreign languages in highbrow New York, London and Paris. Or is it?

Opera Fort Collins (OFC), a 501(c)3 non-profit performing arts group, was established in 1979. Elizabeth Elliott served as its first artistic director, followed by Dr. Todd Queen (2004-2011). From 1981-1990, productions ran under the auspices of OpenStage Theatre.

Over the years, more events designed to enrich the community with vocal artistry launched, including a winter gala, regional school educational program and a regional singing competition added in 1999.

Now under the direction of University of Northern Colorado Professor Brian Clay Luedloff, OFC presents fully staged operas and other events throughout the year. Luedloff declares everyone can enjoy their productions.

“Nothing to fear from opera!” he proclaimed. “Opera is simply a good story, told in great music, with grand singing.”

And not just in foreign tongues. Madama Butterfly will be presented in its original Italian but with English supertitles. And The Thunder of Horses, based on a native American legend, is presented in English. Great for families with children, it runs just 40 minutes.

As only its third artistic director in OFC’s history, Luedloff is a zealous but busy advocate.

“Together with music director Wes Kenney, I select the season, cast the singers and engage designers and artists to create all the theatrical elements,” he explained. “I’m responsible for the overall artistic product of the company.”

Just as a fine pastry’s specific ingredients combine into singular deliciousness, OFC’s ultimate artistic product blends together more facets than a casual observer would notice: music, voice, staging, promotion.

For example, Luedloff divulged that Rebecca Spafford, a frequent costumer with the company, is masterful at resourcing and uniting made, bought, borrowed and rented clothing elements.

“As you might imagine,” Luedloff pointed out, “our resources as a small company are limited. Our friends at companies like OpenStage Theater and Bas Bleu have been very collaborative in sharing things like costumes and props.”

OFC performers are a dedicated, devoted lot, many simultaneously working and/or attending classes.

Sisters Tessa and Julianna Espinosa, Louisiana natives, are former OFC apprentice artists; Tessa from 2014-2016, and Julianna 2015-2017. Apprentice artists perform smaller roles in main stage operas and principle roles in smaller productions.

PHOTO BY MARTY METZGER Sisters Julianna (left) and Tessa Espinosa are former OFC Apprentice Artists actively pursuing operatic careers while working as many side jobs as they can to meet expenses. They realize that only those truly dedicated will succeed.

Tessa, now 26, was Young Sally in Follies by Sondheim; Adina from Elixir of Love by Donizetti (main stage); and in the chorus of Turandot by Puccini. She also travelled with OFC for outreach to schools and retirement homes.

Julianna sang as a chorus member in main stage performances, including Cosi Fan Tutti by Mozart and Othello by Verdi.

Both Espinosas have greatly sacrificed for their art. With a wide musical background and several degrees, Tessa originally wanted to teach but set that goal aside to perform for a stipend of just $100-$250 for an entire OFC season. She currently lives in a rented room, carries student loans, teaches voice and piano at two music schools, and holds a paid position with a church choir.

“Luckily I like teaching; otherwise I’d be waiting tables,” she admitted. “I worked at Chipotle for a while last summer and also cleaned Airbnbs.”

Julianna, 22, fell in love with OFC during a 2014 visit with Tessa. She decided to attend UNC and sing with the opera after successfully auditioning.

A full-time student can only work part-time. Julianna admitted that $300/month is stretched thin over all expenses other than rent, which her father covers. Seeking an opera career, she plans to audition for a Masters in Opera Performance. Unlike most college degrees, this one requires acceptance via a pre-audition video, interview and $100-$200 audition fees (plus paying an accompanying pianist).

Julianna will also compete in the Southard Competition for prize money, and through 2018 Met Council auditions for a possible apprenticeship with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Director Luedloff said, “There’s a great misperception that opera is a dying art form. While we all saw a decline during the recession, we know that, nationally, small companies like Opera Fort Collins are the growth sector of the opera business. We enjoy a small but very loyal, and growing, audience.”

He noted that OFC is literally bringing opera to the community! A new Festival format will kick off in Colorado State University’s Griffith Hall May 30-June 2, 2018, with a thematically related gala, two performances of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, and a concert evening of opera music set in Asian stories. Plus, The Thunder of Horses will play at three different venues around Fort Collins.

Obviously nothing to fear from opera!

Opera is merely booming voices singing foreign languages in highbrow New York, London and Paris. Or is it?

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