The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
University of Kentucky senior Rebecca Farley and Ph.D. candidate Thomas Gunther were winners in Saturday’s Kentucky District Round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and they are still in the running to sing on the Metropolitan Opera stage. Their next stop is Memphis, Tenn., for the Midsouth Regional round of the auditions on Jan. 26, where they will be joined by University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of music graduate student Edward Nelson, who rounded out the field of three winners, Saturday.
Traditionally, only one singer advances to the national semi-finals in New York from regional rounds.
The win rounds out a big fall for Farley, 22, who was one of three UK sopranos who sang the role of Christine in the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s blockbuster production of Phantom of the Opera. Gunther, 29, was one of three singers who played Raoul.
Also honored Saturday were two other stars of that production: baritone Jacob Brian Waid who played the Phantom and tenor Evan LeRoy Johnson who played Piangi, both 20. They received encouragement awards, which included cash prizes, though they did not advance to the next round.
All four honorees are students of UK voice professor Cynthia Lawrence.
The Met Auditions were held at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall, and 24 singers competed Saturday.
Note: This post was update to correct the number of UK winners stated in the initial posting.
Lexington washes across the walls of Cross Gate Gallery this month in streams of watercolor, forming images of Cheapside, the Lexington Opera House, Al’s Bar and many other familiar locations rendered in dreamy impressions from the brush of Sandra Oppegard.
“There was one lady in here who said, ‘You make Lexington look like Paris,’” Oppegard says, leading a casual tour of her exhibit, Landscapes and Townscapes. She quickly steers toward a painting and says, “I think she was referring to the old Metropol at dusk, because that has a kind of Parisian feel.”
In her image, the restaurant, which was in the building now occupied by The Village Idiot pub, is framed by lights and occupied by a reveling crowd.
Others have told her that she makes Lexington look fabulous.
“To me, it looks that way,” Oppegard says. “That’s the thing about someone coming in from another area: new eyes.”
Oppegard, 71, was born in Cincinnati and then began moving west, eventually settling in California. Her love of art coincided with a love of horses. She was encouraged through art classes in high school to go to art school and attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. From there, she went on to a 23-year career as a freelance illustrator based in Southern California with a list of clients that included Max Factor, Redken, Mattel Toys and Baskin-Robbins.
In 1974, she married Thoroughbred trainer Victor Ellis Oppegard. The couple moved to Montana in the 1980s and Lexington in 1999.
“I even got an assistant trainer’s license in California,” Oppegard says. “I got to saddle horses at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. I learned things that were very handy to me getting commissions to paint horses and selling work because it’s very authentic. I really know what’s going on. You can tell if an artist knows horses or not.”
While working in California, Oppegard met Cross Gate Gallery owner Greg Ladd and he started buying her work. In 1994, she visited Lexington for the first time and says that’s when she and her husband first considered moving to the Bluegrass. An added draw was family that had moved to Northern Kentucky.
At its core, West Side Story is another iteration of a timeless tale about love doomed by ignorant and irrational hatred.
William Shakespeare wrote about it in the late 16th century in Romeo and Juliet, and other versions preceded it. The saddest thing is no one ever quite gets the point because you could take this story and plop it in the midst of numerous warring groups today, and it would make sense.
In the late 1950s, the trio of composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and a writer Arthur Laurents set it among warring white and Puerto Rican gangs. The unfortunate thing about the touring production that opened at the Lexington Opera House Friday night for a three day run is it felt more like a museum piece than a vibrant story.
Quite a bit has been made about how this production, based on the 2009 Broadway revival by Laurents, updated the show to make it contemporary. That is primarily in the portrayal of the Puerto Rican characters who are played mostly by actors with Latin-American backgrounds and speak Spanish for significant portions of the show. But the gang life still feels very rooted in the mid-20th century and sanitized for musical theater. If you were concerned this was going to be some kind of Martin Scorsese take on the Sharks and the Jets, rest easy. It’s hard to sound very tough saying, “Daddy-O.”
But what really keeps this production from soaring is another timeless hazard for tales of star-crossed lovers: It’s hard to get too involved with the story if you aren’t sold on the couple.
We aren’t quite sure why Addison Reid Coe’s Tony and Maryjoanna Grisso’s Maria are drawn to each other across the dance floor, and we never really are. The passion that’s supposed to spark two-and-a-half hours of drama really never ignites, and that leaves us hanging on the songs.
Fortunately, West Side Story gives us plenty of great songs and there are some really strong performances in this production, particularly Act I centerpieces America and Cool.
Anita is one of the great show-stealing roles in American musical theater — just ask Rita Moreno — and Michelle Alves makes the most of her opportunity here, particularly with the showcase of America, swinging her skirt around, mugging and leading a great ensemble turn. Of anyone in this show, it would be no surprise if Alves made it to Broadway.
As Riff, Theo Lencicki takes a similarly strong turn in Cool, where the gang leader teaches his Jets how to act. His counterpart with the Sharks, Andres Acosta as Bernardo, is also a compelling stage presence.
But it’s Tony and Maria that must carry the show. Grisso has a beautiful voice and develops some grit before the final curtain. Coe never makes us believe Tony was once a gang leader, and with two big solos, Something’s Coming and Maria, he did not seem to know what to with himself alone on stage.
The Spanish and casting of the Puerto Rican parts certainly strengthened the production, giving the show greater credibility than some versions of West Side Story that have scrimped on cultural authenticity. And there were some thrilling ensemble moments, particularly the Dance at the Gym and the highly stylized fighting of the prologue.
But the lesson of this production is that regardless of how you frame the show, it will rise or fall on its performances and storytelling. Whether it’s R&J or West Side Story, this is not a tale that should leave us dry eyed and indifferent.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich