Both the audience and the performers will get a treat at Ann Nicole Nelson Hall, on the campus of Minot State University, on May 31 and June 2 when a troupe of traveling musicians takes the stage under the aegis of the Western Plains Opera Company.
These singers have been in the most famous opera houses around the world, and have compared the MSU venue favorably to them.
"The acoustics are really friendly to performers," said Sam Savage, a returning tenor from Indiana who will be performing Canio in "Pagliacci." "You have a wonderful space here."
As Minot State University faculty member and costumer for the show, DeVera Bowles, put it, "You can see the audience and they can see you even during the performance, and you know they can hear you. It's amazing that we have such a valuable concert hall in Minot, and it's one of the reasons our singers like to come back and do the operas here."
Savage, who will be in Rome performing this summer, has sung here six times over the years, but it's the first time he's had a chance to sing the lead in "Pagliacci" anywhere. "It's a great place to give this a first," he said.
The husband-and-wife team of Jeff and Vicki Madison have both performed here, but not at the same time. They are taking the roles of the lovers Nedda and Silvio in "Pagliacci," and father and daughter in "Gianni Schicchi," the second of the two one-acts being presented.
"That's actually how we met," Jeff Madison said. "We were in 'Schicchi' doing the same roles several years ago, and we've been married 4 1/2 years now." The Madisons live and teach in the Duluth, Minn., area at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and Jeff also teaches in the Twin Cities.
Gennard Lombardozzi will sing Rinuccio in "Schicchi," and Peppe in "Pagliacci."
And when events dictated a replacement be found at the last minute, tenor Michael Posey accepted with alacrity. Currently living in New Jersey, the Georgia native lived in Salzburg, Austria, and performed throughout Europe for 10 years.
One of the more notable members of the cast is Chad Armstrong, a Canadian who considers coming to Minot to be returning home.
"I graduated from MSU in 1998 with a degree in music education," he said, "with an emphasis in trombone and voice. In fact, Ken (Bowles) discovered my voice."
Bowles, who is the general manager of the Western Plains Opera, had suggested he audition for the MSU choir, and things "snowballed" from there. Armstrong now considers himself a freelance opera singer, and is based in New Jersey. The baritone has sung many times in Minot, as well as New York City, New Jersey, Vermont, Italy, the Czech Republic and Hungary. On the first of September he will marry Sara Petrocelli of New Jersey. He has not yet sung the role of Tonio, although he has sung Silvio in the past. The role is so vocally demanding that he, like Savage, will only be performing in "Pagliacci."
When it comes time to cast the operas that WPO plans, it falls mainly to the Bowles to search through their network of students, college friends and colleagues to find the proper mix.
"There's a lot of, 'I know you can't do this (role), but do you have any ideas who would be available?' in the beginning," said DeVera Bowles. "Of course we have a lot of alumni we contact as well."
Those performing this year include Kim Beard, Jennifer Brenna, Rebecca Holler and Armstrong. Current MSU faculty members performing include Cheryl Nilsen, David Bradley and Ken Bowles. There are MSU students and community members joining the company as well - Don Wagge, Troy Guttormson, Jonathan Clark, Jared Olson, Tim Olson, Daniel Johnson, Teresa Hargrove, Rae-Mae Owens, Cassie Toavs, Terri Rubbert, Courtney Armstrong and Sam Buchholtz.
A fantastic roster of performers will be on hand for the tragedy "Pagliacci" by Leoncavello, and the light comedy "Gianni Schicchi" by Puccini.
Interested parties should take advantage of the opportunity to reserve their preferred seats now by calling 858-3185. Tickets are $12, $16, $20 and $25, depending on seat selection. Student discounts are available.