Piedmont Opera’s Rigoletto Features Current and Former Fletcher Opera Fellows

In filling the ranks of supporting characters, Piedmont Opera’s production tapped North Carolina’s bounteous lodes of native and adopted vocal talent. Fellows of the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute of the University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts made especially strong showings, led by soprano Kristin Schwecke, who sparred seductively with the Duca as the Contessa di Ceprano in Act One and returned in Act Three as a beguiling Maddalena. Schwecke delivered ‘Somiglia un Apollo, quel giovane, io l’amo, ei m’ama…riposi…nè più l’uccidiamo,’ Maddalena’s plea for Sparafucile to spare the Duca’s life, with alluring tone, lacking only complete solidity at the bottom of the line. The Duca’s courtiers were in this production a raucous lot who nonetheless preserved a measure of the decorum befitting a duke’s court. The Duca is a libertine, to be sure, but a married one, and there is nothing in the score to suggest that his Duchessa would suffer her household to be run both inwardly and outwardly like a bawdy establishment. Baritone Cody Monta’ sang Marullo with unstinting force complemented by the vivacity of tenor Simon Petersson’s depiction of Borsa. Recently acclaimed for his portrayal of the title rôle in Opera Wilmington’s production of Rigoletto, baritone Joshua Conyers was in Winston-Salem a Conte di Ceprano who could not be ignored. His garnet-hued voice hurled out every note that Verdi allocated to him with tonal focus and dramatic purpose: the Duca who would dare to toy with this Count’s Countess is an unscrupulous fool without the good sense to fear for his own safety. Soprano Jaclyn Surso was a model of good-natured perturbation as Giovanna, Gilda’s duenna, and Lindsay Mecher deployed her attractive mezzo-soprano impressively as the Duchessa’s page. Following his colleagues’ examples, bass Patrick Scully made the most of the usher’s brief contribution.


Read the Full Review Here:  Voix-Des-Arts Full Review


Fletcher Update Winter 2014

Click here to see pictures of our Fellows and Alumni performing in the Summer of 2013:


Fletcher Summer



It has been a busy season for the Fletcher Fellows this fall.  In addition to performing The Town Musicians of Bremen to over 2000 students, they presented an opera scenes program celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Verdi and finally as soloists for Verdi’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah.

Jaclyn Surso, soprano

Jaclyn is a first year fellow in the studio of Marilyn Taylor.  She covered the soprano soloist in Verdi’s Requiem and was the soprano soloist for the 81st Annual Performance of Handel’s Messiah with the Mozart Club of Winston Salem.  She will sing the role of Antonia in The Tales of Hoffmann and Sandrina in Mozart’s La finta giardiniera.

Megan Cleaveland, soprano

Megan is a first year fellow in the studio of Glenn Siebert.  She will be the soprano soloist for Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Salisbury Symphony in March.  She will sing Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann and Serpetta in La finta giardiniera for the Fletcher Institute.

Kate Farrar, mezzo-soprano

Kate is in her third year with the Fletcher Institute where she has performed the role of Frau Mary in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman with Piedmont Opera as well as the mezzo-soprano soloist in Verdi’s Requiem.  This summer Kate will return as apprentice artist to Chautauqua where she will sing the role of Kate Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly and one of Augusta’s friends in The Ballade of Baby Doe.   She is a student of Marion Pratnicki.  She will sing the role of Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann and Arminda in Mozart’s La finta giardiniera.  In January Kate competed in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in Charlotte.  She will represent the North Carolina District in the Southeast Regional in Atlanta on February 16.

Jennifer Lazarz, mezzo-soprano

Jennifer is in her second year and was the mezzo-soprano soloist in the 81st Annual Mozart Club Messiah.  In addition to this performance, she als0 presented her master’s recital.  She sing the roles of The Muse/Niklaus in The Tales of Hoffmann and Ramiro in La finta giardiniera.    She is a student of Marilyn Taylor.

Jesse Darden, tenor

Jesse is in his second year with the Fletcher Institute and was the tenor soloist in the 81st Annual Mozart Club Messiah.   Jesse will return for a third year to Chautauqua Opera where he will sing the role of Goro in Madame Butterfly as well as one of Tabor’s cronies in The Ballade of Baby Doe.  He will sing the role of Joe Cable in Piedmont Opera’s South Pacific the title role in the Tales of Hoffmann and Count Belfiore in La finta giardiniera.  He has studied with Dr. Marilyn Taylor and currently studies with James Allbritten.

Jonathan Johnson, tenor

Jonathan is in his third year of study in the studio of Dr. Marilyn Taylor.  He was most recently chosen to be a part of the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago starting in April 2014.  He also appeared as the Steuermann in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman with Piedmont Opera and was the tenor soloist in Verdi’s Requiem.  Next term he will sing the title role in The Tales of Hoffmann and the Podesta in Mozart’s La finta giardiniera.  This past summer he sang the title role of Candide and as Reverand Adams in Peter Grimes with Anthony Dean Griffey in the title role.  Griffey who is our Distinguised Artist-in-Residence for the 2013-14 Year is also a student of Dr. Marilyn Taylor.  In January Jonathan competed in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in Charlotte.  He will represent the North Carolina District in the Southeast Regional in Atlanta on February 16.


René Barbera, tenor

Tenor René Barbera has had a very busy fall.  After successful performances in Rossini’s La donna del lago with Santa Fe Opera, he travelled to Australia for the Verdi Requiem under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis.  Next stop Paris where he made his debut as Arturo in Bellini’s I puritani then to Naples for The Barber of Seville the Duke in Rigoletto with Opera Colorado  and a return as Nemorino in The Elixir of Love with St. Louis Opera.  A 2011 winner of the Placido Domingo Operalia Competition and a former member of the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, René continues to study with Dr. Marilyn Taylor.

Joshua Conyers, baritone

Baritone Joshua Conyers spent the summer at Santa Fe Opera where he covered the role of Walt Whitman in the world premiere of Oscar starring David Daniels.  He will return to Santa Fe this summer as an apprentice artist.  Joshua continues to study with Dr. Marilyn Taylor.

Stephanie Davis, mezzo-soprano

Stephanie has appeared with Nightingale Opera Theatre as Charlotte in Werther and Berta in The Barber of Seville with Orlando Opera.   She will sing the role of La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi with Opera Carolina in February 2014.   She was a student of Marion Pratnicki.

Ted Federle, baritone

Ted, who still resides in Winston Salem has been working steadily since he graduated from the Institute.  Appearances with Nashville Opera as Papageno, Chautauqua Opera as Ned Keene in Peter Grimes, Mobile Opera as Pish-Tush in The Mikado and Pensacola Opera as Dandini in La Cenerentola and Dancaïro in Carmen.  Ted is a student of Dr. Marilyn Taylor.

Marvin Kehler, tenor

Marvin Kehler returns to Sarasota Opera this winter as a resident artist where he will cover the roles of Erik in The Flying Dutchaman  and Manrico in Il trovatore.   This is his second season with Sarasota.  Marvin was a student of Dr. Marilyn Taylor.

Emily Newton, soprano

After her electrifying performance as Anna Nicole in Anna Nicole the Opera at Opera Dortmund, soprano Emily Amber Newton went on to a series of concerts in Germany and most recently sang Leonora in Beethoven’s Fidelio with Aachen.  She has covered roles in the new MET production of Wagner’s Ring.   While at the Fletcher Institute, she studied with Dr. Marilyn Taylor.

Richard Ollarsaba, bass-baritone

Richard has had a busy season since leaving Minnesota Opera where he was a resident artist.  He currently is a member of the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago were he is singing The Herald in Otello, Grenvile in La traviata, the 2nd Grail Knight in Parsifal, the Commissioner in Madama Butterfly. He was also a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.  He is a student of Dr. Marilyn Taylor.

Kristin Schwecke, soprano

A recent graduate of the Fletcher Institute, Kristin was a studio artist this summer at Chautauqua Opera where she sang the role of Second Niece in Peter Grimes.   This fall she was a member of the Open Dream Ensemble where she performed throughout the southwest and presented workshops about music an theatre.  This fall she was the soprano soloist in Verdi’s Requiem.  She is a student of Dr. Marilyn Taylor.

Michael Shell, stage director

Stage Director Michael Shell has had a very busy year.   After directing Apprentice Scenes for Santa Fe Opera, where baritone Joshua Conyers and tenor  René Barbera  were also working, he travelled to Minot, ND for Le nozze di Figaro, featuring Fletcher Alumni Catherine Park as Susanna and baritione Michael Redding as the Count.  Next stop, Raleigh, NC for a very spirited Così fan tutte and finally Norfolk, VA for The Magic Flute. Upcoming include Pinafore for Indiana University and Barber of Seville for Pittsburgh Opera and St. Louis Opera and a return to Santa Fe.  Michael was a student of Marilyn Taylor and James Allbritten.

Logan Webber, tenor

Logan Webber will be a studio artist at Chautauqua Opera this summer.  This past summer he was a young artist with the Princeton Festival.   He was a student of Dr. Marilyn Taylor.

The Fletcher Institute Welcomes Tenor, Anthony Dean Griffey

We are happy to welcome American tenor, Anthony Dean Griffey as our Distinguished Artist-in-Residence.  Read about it here.


Tune in Thursday, June 13th  at Noon to hear the broadcast of the Princeton Festival’s Gianni Schicchi featuring the following Fletcher Alumni:
Jodi Burns as Lauretta
Kyle Guglielmo as Marco
Steven Slupe as  Guccio
Andre Peele as Pinellino
The broadcast can be heard at wwfm.org.
 Also involved from UNCSA are: Steven LaCosse, stage director
 Mark Pirolo , set designer
Norman Coates, lighting designer
Martha Ruskai, wig and make designer
Tera A Willis, wig and makeup assistant


La Rondine Highlights

Hot off the press.  Video Clips from 2013 production of Puccini’s La Rondine.

La Rondine 2013 Clips

Fletcher Fellows and Alum Updates


As of today we have great news.  Baritone Ted Federle, will be an apprentice artist at Chautauqua this summer singing the role of Ned Keene in Peter Grimes and cover the role of Ford in Falstaff.   He will be joined by studio artists Jesse Darden, tenor and Kate Farrar, mezzo-soprano.   Jesse will  cover Bob Boles in Peter Grimes and Fenton in Falstaff and Kate will sing in the ensemble.  Ted and Jesse are students of Marilyn Taylor, Kate is a student of Marion Pratnicki.

Tenor Jonathan Johnson will be attending Aspen Music Fesitval this summer. He will sing the title role in  Candide and sing in the ensemble of Peter Grimes with Anthony Dean Griffey.   Jonathan and Mr. Griffey are students of Marilyn Taylor.


René Barbera made his Michigan Opera Theatre debut as Almaviva in Il barbieri di Siviglia and his Lyric Opera Of Chicago debut as Ernesto in Don Pasquale.  He was recently featured in Opera News.  To view this article, click here.  He will make his Sante Fe opera debut this summer.  He continues to study with Marilyn Taylor.

Bass-Baritone Richard Ollarsaba, currently a young artist at Minnesota Opera won the District Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and will sing in the regional competition in Feburary.  Richard is a student of Marilyn Taylor

Baritone Johsua Conyers, currently completing his masters degree at Indiana University recieved an enouragement award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in Bloomington and was first place winner at the S. Livingston Mather Vocal Competition in Cleaveland.  He will be a young artist this summer at Sante Fe Opera.   Joshua was a student of Marilyn Taylor.

Soprano Jodi Burns was the soprano soloist with the North Carolina Symphony for Handel’s Messiah.   Jodi continues to study with Marilyn Taylor.



Alumni Newsletter

Are you interested in learning more and catching up with our alumni? Check out this newsletter for the latest info on some of our successful alums. Follow this link http://www.fletcheropera.com/people/vocal-fold-sings/

‘La Sonnambula’: Washington Concert Opera’s glorious bel canto — Rene Barbera

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2012 – The Washington Concert  Opera got its short season off to a smashing start this past Sunday afternoon at  GWU’s Lisner Auditorium with an absolutely dazzling performance of Bellini’s bel  canto opera, La Sonnambula (“The Sleepwalker”). Not heard in DC, we are  told, since the mid-1980s, WCO’s kick-off performance brought this feisty little  company back into the bel canto repertoire for which they’re most  cherished in this city.

Actually, WCO had a little inadvertent competition from WNO (Washington  National Opera) this weekend as the latter company opened its own season with a  fully staged and entirely different production of Donizetti’s Anna  Bolena at the Kennedy Center. WNO’s performances are fully staged, of  course, while WCO presents the music and singing with little in the way of  props, focusing purely on the score. This approach makes WCO’s tickets more  affordable. But it also enables this company to highlight phenomenal singers  that, for various reasons, you might never get a chance to see in a full  production.

Possessing a flimsier, less dramatic plot than Bolena and set in the  placid Swiss countryside, Sonnambula is a more delicate, nuanced score  that highlights Bellini’s greatest compositional strengths—beautiful,  long-lasting melodic excursions along with stratospheric vocal leaps. These  latter bits of showmanship, however, are in themselves rather tasteful as they  occur only at infrequent intervals, saving the singer from wearing out, and the  listener from being too agitated as he or she awaits these short but important  moments of vocal truth.

Orchestra and cast members of WCO’s terrific ‘La  Sonnambula.’ Maestro Antony Walker at center. (Credit: Don Lassell for WCO)

Sonnambula’s tissue-thin plot involves a pair of dueling young  women—well, one of them, the innkeeper Lisa (soprano Maureen McKay), is doing  the dueling—who both have fallen in love with the same guy, Elvino (tenor René  Barbera), who’s described as a “wealthy young landowner.”

The winner in the Elvino sweepstakes is the demure, self-effacing Amina  (soprano Eglise Guttiérez). Much beloved by the townspeople, she’s a onetime  orphan who was adopted by the mill owner Teresa (mezzo-soprano Madeline  Gray).

In disguise, Count Rodolfo (baritone Ben Wager) drops into town after many  years’ absence in order to move back into the ancestral castle he’s inherited.  But Lisa sees through his disguise in a millisecond—as do the villagers—and  offers to put him up at her inn for the night since it’s already too late to get  to the distant castle that evening.

While ensconced in his room, he’s visited by a “ghost” that’s been  frightening villagers, who actually turns out to be the hapless Amina. For it is  she who is this opera’s eponymous sleepwalker. Compounding this strange  situation in the Count’s room, she unluckily falls back to sleep. Which allows  Lisa to discover her rival’s “compromising” situation and torpedo her impending  marriage to Elvino by broadcasting Amina’s alleged transgression throughout the  town. Not to worry, though. Things all get sorted out in the end, and the “nice” girl gets to live happily ever after.

What we ourselves end up with is a nice little domestic comedy-farce. Its  amusing plot offered the composer ample opportunity to set down charming,  romantic solos, duets, and ensembles. These are punctuated by a few pages here  and there of exciting martial music as the story’s various dramatic plot turns  come to the fore. The entire work is an easy to listen to delight. Sunday’s  audience simply loved it to death for all the right reasons: they heard gorgeous  music graciously performed by singers unafraid to mine each exquisite line’s  emotional core.

Key soloists in this work were our heroine, Amina, her suitor Elvino, her  rival Lisa, and finally, the befuddled but good-natured Count. The singers  performed each part with lightness and grace, and the WCO orchestra under the  baton of Maestro Antony Walker—who serves as the company’s artistic  director—accompanied them with their accustomed sensitivity. But they also let  things rip during moments when they themselves were center stage.

As Elvino, Mr. Barbera was most impressive, boasting a clarion tenor whose  authority was unmistakable at every entrance. Clean and unencumbered by any  affectation, his instrument always rang true and his vocal lines were remarkable  for their precise and gracious phrasing.

As Amina, Ms. Gutiérrez, whom we had not heard prior to this performance,  proved to be a treasure as well. Given the most taxing music in the score, she  generally navigated both simple and wickedly complex passages with the greatest  of ease, providing many of the most thrilling moments for an enthusiastic WCO  audience.  Her voice did desert her for two or three brief moments during  her frequent excursions to the top, and her face betrayed a bit of  self-irritation at this during the curtain call.

But she needn’t have worried. The audience easily forgave those ephemeral  millisecond lapses, focusing instead on the extraordinary, intense artistry she  radiated throughout her performance. And this is live music, after all, with no  second takes to hide behind as in a recording studio.

As Lisa, Ms. McKay proved more delightful than malevolent as Bellini’s  designated villain. She really has nothing against Amina other than the fact  that she herself wanted to marry Elvino. Ms. McKay vocally alternates an almost  syrupy charm when she’s pleased with herself, and an almost adolescent petulance  when things go the other way. We recall her fine performance as Johanna in Wolf  Trap Opera’s Sweeney Todd some time back, and it’s clear that she has  continued to grow as a fine young artist whose career is now well on its  way.

Ben Wager clearly had fun Sunday in his role as Count Rodolfo. Rodolfo, as  the town’s returning ruler, is clearly in a position of authority, but seems to  gently bungle it at every turn as he’s ensnared into the town’s real and  imagined ghost story which complicates the upcoming nuptials of Amina and  Elvino. Mr. Wager’s acting skills—even in concert opera—combined with excellent  phrasing and diction and a steady vocal attack, lent to his character a nearly  perfect balance graciousness, forthrightness, and frustration, burnishing the  light, comic moments of this opera.

While the role of Teresa is a small one, Madeleine Gray brought to it a fine  dignity that allowed her character to believably take some difficult situations  in hand and bring her confused daughter, fiancé, and others to a satisfying  denouement.

The worst thing about Sunday’s performance is that it’s over, which forces us  to wait until next April 7, when WCO will perform Donizetti’s Maria  Stuarda in its second and final performance of this season. We’ll be there.  But in the meantime we’ll continue to bask in the sheer, remembered joy of this  company’s wonderfully realized La Sonnambula.

Read more: ‘La Sonnambula’: Washington Concert Opera’s glorious bel canto | Washington Times Communities

Congratulations to Richard Ollarsaba

Richard Ollarsaba, Bass-baritone

Richard Ollarsaba, Bass-baritone

Richard Ollarsaba has just been accepted into the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago.   He graduated in May 2012 and since then has been a fellow at the Tanglewood Institute where he was chosen as a soloist for the 75th Anniversary Celebration of Tanglewood that was broadcast on PBS.  He is currently a young artist with Minnesota Opera.  He will begin his work in Chicago in April 2013.  Richard is a student of Dr. Marilyn Taylor.

Fletcher Fellows Teach Anti-Bullying in High Point

Check out the Video Here


HIGH POINT — Students at Johnson Street Global Studies in High Point got a special lesson Tuesday as they learned an anti-bullying message through opera. It is a theme organizers plan to take to 30 elementary schools across the Triad.

For many of the students, it’s their first time being exposed to opera. “What they do is take childhood stories, in this case it’s the Billy Goats Gruff, last year it was 3 little Pigs and the recreate the story with a message,”  said UNC School of the Arts graduate student Jennifer Lazarz.

The message is an important one: what to do when being bullied.

“It goes about it in many different ways. The kids try to figure out should we cross it on our own? Should we go get our parents? Should I stand up to the bully and so it’s a good way for discussion when its over to say which goat handled it the best and how did it work out?,” said Fletcher Opera Institute Managing Director Steven LaCosse.

Anyone who may think elementary students would not find opera interesting, has missed the mark.

“What amazes me each time is how glued the kids are to that live performance. They really sit and they’re like in the story, they believe it. We have very little scenery, very little real props, they just come out and tell the story. And the kids just, their imaginations are quite active,” LaCosse said.

Organizers hope through the program, students get some valuable information but also grow an interest in opera. The performers are graduate level students at UNC School of the Arts. The group will travel to other schools through out the Triad in the coming months to continue spreading their message to students.