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Leslie Maudlin and David Malis. photo by David N. Seelig
photo by David N. Seelig


Something
to sing about
Sun Valley Opera shines
in its third season


by Dana Dugan

Like the Renaissance of Europe, Sun Valley has risen from the Dark Ages—when barroom brawls and cross-dressing passed as entertainment for miners—to the culturally rich community it is today.

The Sun Valley area supports multiple theater companies, two dance companies, the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, the free Sun Valley Summer Symphony Series, Sun Valley Ice Shows, Swingin’ Dixie Jazz Jamboree, Sun Valley Arts & Crafts Festival, Sun Valley Wine Auction, approximately 30 fine art galleries in Ketchum, the Caritas Chorale and a host of independent theater, music and art professionals.

What the valley didn’t have was opera. Two fellow Rotarians, Floyd McCracken and Frank Meyer, took it upon themselves to change that.

John Maudlin and Melissa Hamilton. photo by David N. Seelig McCracken, Meyer and valley resident Marsha Ingham founded the Sun Valley Opera in 2001. “We just decided we’re going to do it,” McCracken said, like a true groundbreaker.

“I had the background of marketing opera here,” McCracken said. “I’d been president of Sun Valley’s Pro Musica five to six years ago and in Sedona, Arizona, where I lived, I did 55 musical variety concerts there. I’ve worked on Swing ’n’ Dixie Jazz Jamboree for 13 years, getting sponsors for the bands.”

The first formal concert was held in February 2002 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum. It was on the same night as the Super Bowl. It was a sell-out. “Performances with classically trained vocal artists is something we feel is great entertainment,” Meyer said. “Bringing this type of art to the valley would enrich the vibrant cultural life.”

They were correct.

Sun Valley Opera’s goal is to bring top quality opera music to the Wood River Valley, present it at affordable prices and have fun doing it, McCracken said.

Today the nonprofit Sun Valley Opera puts on three to five concerts per year at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood on Saddle Road in Ketchum. With the church’s state-of-the-art acoustics and room for a large audience, the opera regularly sells out its concerts.

Meyer, who lives in Seattle and Ketchum, was a supporter of the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program and was instrumental in bringing a concert to Sun Valley four years ago.

“Cooperation and encouragement of board members of several of the arts organizations in the valley made it easier to get off the ground.

“Not having a built-in patron base makes it a challenge for a performing arts organization to get started. But, because of this cooperation and help from the media the shows have been sellouts. As a result, our expenses have been covered by ticket sales and volunteer hours. Although it’s rare in the arts world, our goal is to continue the policy of no fund raising,” Meyer said.

Along with President McCracken, Vice President Meyer and Secretary Treasurer Ingham, the Board of Directors includes Ronald Green, Elizabeth Warrick, Patricia Darman, Joe Bowens, Phoebe Thorn-Wilcox and Clifton Rippon.

The company looks specifically for singers as comfortable in the world of musical theater as they are in opera. Its yearly series is called “From the Met to Broadway.” “The most sought after vocal artist today is the cross-over singer, the performer who has the classically trained voice of opera and at the same time has the acting skills of a Broadway star,” Meyer said.

The artists who come to entertain are culled from many areas, McCracken added. “We hire people we’ve heard about or read about,” McCracken said. “I met mezzo-soprano Paula Rasmussen’s husband, baritone Donald Sherrill, when he sang in Boise. They performed here, and she returned with other artists last summer. We’ve gone to the Seattle Opera and met their people, also Opera Idaho and Utah Opera.”

Sun Valley Opera’s goal is to appeal to an audience of varied generations, and the “Met to Broadway Series” has helped to accomplish that.

Featured guest artists have impressive résumés, including renowned mezzo-soprano Rasmussen, tenor Mathew Lord, soprano Jill Blalock, Canadian-Finnish soprano Eilana Lappalainen and Idaho tenor Ryan Olson, as well as pianist Vivian Liu.

Rasmussen is recognized for her performances with companies such as Opera National de Paris, Oper der Stadt Köln, Glyndebourne Festival, Grand Theatre de Geneva, The Los Angeles Opera, Dallas Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony.

“These voices in Sun Valley are fabulous,” said Earl Holding, owner of Sun Valley Company at last year’s concert. Diva Rasmussen, who did “Carmen” two years ago for the New York City Opera, wowed the sold-out audience which shouted, “Encore!” following her rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

Fabio Andreotti. courtesy photoHer friend Blalock brought a wide range of musical theater experience. Her résumé includes performances in “Carousel,” “The Merry Widow,” “The Barber of Seville,” “La Traviata,” in “The Crucible,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Lucia di Lammermoor” and in the national tour of “The
King and I.”

“We like our Met to Broadway series,” McCracken said. “It’s very popular and there’s something for everybody.”

An extraordinary treat in their second season was the “Songs of Naples” concert. Sun Valley Opera flew in Italian artists, tenor Fabio Andreotti and soprano Ilaria De Francesco, for two nights only.

“The audience at the concert sang along with the artists for ‘O Sole Mio,’” Meyer recalled. De Francesco and Andreotti also sang the lead roles in “La Traviata” in Tokyo.

This February, a new Met to Broadway season began with highlights from Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow,” as well as musical theater tunes, including pieces by Lerner and Lowe, Rogers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Leonard Bernstein.

The cast of performers was baritone David Malis, who preformed with the Metropolitan Opera for 12 seasons, tenor John Mauldin, soprano Melissa Hamilton and soprano Leslie Mauldin.

Leslie Maudlin. photo by David N. Seelig This summer, the Sun Valley Opera features Andreotti and Rasmussen for a concert Saturday, July 3. Tenor Andreotti has been described as the new Italian Pavarotti, Ingham said.

“And Paula Rasmussen is very popular in Sun Valley. She loves to stay in our guest house,” Ingham added.

The other returning performer is baritone Sherrill.

We continue to have sold-out concerts. I’m overwhelmed and extremely grateful for the community support. We don’t solicit monetary donations, we make money from ticket sales only, and we remain in the black,” Ingham said.

She added that singers from around the country have heard through the grapevine that Sun Valley is a lovely place to visit and perform. “They are sending résumés to us from all over. That’s very exciting for us.”

“It’s like a flower opening up for us,” McCracken said. “We can’t even see the horizon. It’s unlimited. We can do anything we want.” •


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