BY RUTH RICE
Four world-class singers, a symphony orchestra and chorus, a lavish buffet and silent and live auctions will combine for an elegant evening for the 21st annual opera festival.
“Great Opera for a Great City” will be performed by the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra and soloists at 7 p.m. Saturday at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the campus of Pitt-Johnstown in Richland Township.
A dinner reception will follow at the Pasquerilla Conference Center, 301 Napoleon St. in downtown Johnstown.
The opera festival is the symphony’s largest fundraiser, making up 30 percent of the revenue in the operating budget, said Brooke Welsh, executive director of the orchestra.
“I choose the artists carefully,” said Maestro Istvan Jaray, music director for the symphony.
“I look in Opera News and see those we’ve had sing in Johnstown are now at the top of the opera world. I look forward to working with them.”
Jaray said the opera festival is a challenging time for the symphony because the musicians are playing music they don’t usually perform.
“We enjoy snippets every year,” Jaray said.
“The opera repertoire is so vast, we don’t repeat most pieces, but we do have some oldies and goodies. The symphony chorus makes it powerful and dramatic. I hope it will be memorable. It will be a wonderful evening of glorious music.”
The opera festival was established by the late Frank and Sylvia Pasquerilla as a way to bring financial stability to the orchestra while introducing opera to the area in a less formal format.
This year’s soloists will feature Sari Gruber, soprano; Barbara Rearick, mezzo soprano; Ray Bauwens, tenor; and Richard Zeller, baritone.
Gruber has been hailed as nothing short of sensational by Opera magazine and a real creature of the stage by Opera News.
She has garnered praise for her performances as some of opera’s most beloved characters, such as Susanna in “Le Nozze di Figaro.”
This season, Gruber returned to Pittsburgh Opera, where she has added new roles to her repertoire.
With symphonies and ensembles across the nation, she has performed as a soloist in works by Handel, Mahler, Bach, Haydn, Schubert and Stravinsky.
Gruber has given recitals under the auspices of the Marilyn Horne Foundation and performed for a PBS Great Performances telecast from the Juilliard Opera Center.
Rearick was born in Pennsylvania, and is currently a member of the voice faculty at Princeton University.
She has been lauded by Opera News for her tonal beauty and by Gramophone for her charm and finesse.
Since her 1993 Carnegie Hall debut in Handel’s Messiah, she has performed with symphony orchestras across the county and internationally.
Rearick also is a founding member of the Britten-Pears Ensemble, a chamber group specializing in rarely heard contemporary works.
A prolific performer and champion of 20th-century music, she has had frequent collaborations with the New York Chamber Ensemble and has appeared on BBC World Service Radio, New York City’s WQXR and National Public Radio.
Bauwens is well-known to audiences in the New England area for his musicianship, acting and vocal skills.
His operatic performances have included the title role in “Roberto Devereux” and roles in “Le Jongleur de Notre Dame,” “Tosca,” “La Fanciulla del West,” “Un Ballo in Maschera,” “La Gioconda,” “Cavalleria Rusticana,” “Gianni Schicchi,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Arabella,” “I Pagliacci,” Verdi’s original St. Petersburg version of “La Forza Del Destino,” “Maria Stuarda,” Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” and Bizet’s “Carmen.”
Bauwens also has performed oratorio and concert works by Beethoven, Bach, Verdi, Mozart, Berlioz and Mendelssohn and with orchestras throughout the United States and internationally.
Zeller is internationally acclaimed for his concert and opera roles and known for his sonorous dramatic voice, a compelling stage presence and outstanding musicianship.
He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1989 and has since appeared with the Met in “La Bohème,” “Il Pirata,” “A View from the Bridge,” “Les Troyens” and “Faust.”
Zeller has made opera appearances in the United States and abroad, including the title role in Verdi’s “Macbeth.”
His concert performances include works by Beethoven and Bach as well as the title role in Mendelssohn’s “Elijah.”
Zeller’s international orchestra credits include a command performance for Prince Rainier and Prince Albert of Monaco, as well as a performance for the Spanish royal family in Madrid and opening the Prague Beethoven Festival with a performance of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9.”
Several days before the opera festival begins, the soloists will participate in a student/guest artist workshop from noon to 1:15 p.m. Thursday at Richland High School.
Students from various school districts have been invited to watch the singers rehearse for the opera festival, along with Jaray and a piano accompanist.
The intent of the workshop is to provide a setting to introduce, expand and enhance high school students’ awareness, understanding and appreciation of a professional singer’s ability, training and responsibility to the world of live opera.
As they watch the singers rehearse, the students will be onstage with them and be able to ask questions.
Joyce Murtha, honorary chairwoman of the 2013 Opera Festival, doesn’t think most of us realize how important it is to have a first-class symphony in our midst.
“If you want to attract new people and businesses, you need a cultural advantage,” Murtha said. “It not only is important for our caliber of life and for our children, but it encourages people when they are considering relocating here.”
Murtha told the story of a friend whose husband was offered a position in Johnstown several years ago.
When they weighed the pros and cons of moving here, the Johnstown Symphony was high on their list.
“I don't think they would have come to Johnstown had there not been a symphony,” Murtha said.
“The opera festival will be a fun and elegant evening.”
The concert will be followed by a reception at the Pasquerilla Conference Center, featuring a lavish buffet, dining with the guest artists, open bar and live and silent auctions.
This year, Welsh and Monica M. Garver, treasurer of the orchestra’s board of trustees, are co-chairing the opera festival auctions.
“This year, we have some very special items that not only highlight the wonderful city of Johnstown, but also celebrate surrounding communities, cities and cultural meccas throughout the United States,” Welsh said.
Live auction items will include a chance to conduct the orchestra for a musical selection during the upcoming season; a seven-night stay at a private home in the Spanish Peaks in Big Sky, Mont.; three consecutive days of choosing a look/color for the Stone Bridge; and the complete series of 10 original Steinbach nutcrackers in original boxes and signed by their creator.
“As a way to highlight the theme, ‘Great Opera for a Great City,’ silent auction items will include photographs of the Johnstown of yesteryear and today, gift certificates for restaurants, spas, golf packages and bed and breakfasts in Johnstown and shopping in Johnstown and surrounding communities,” Welsh said.
“Some of the unique items we have include Steelers tickets with an autographed Troy Polomalu photo, an autographed necktie from David Hyde Pierce from the hit TV show ‘Frasier,’ a stainless steel gas grill and Sabika jewelery.”
City packages will include events, overnight stays and restaurants from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York City, such as tickets to the Pittsburgh Opera Company, Philadelphia Zoo, Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall.
“The opera festival tradition is now more than two decades old,” said symphony board president Dennis McNair.
“Our Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, the heart of our great city and the Laurel Highlands, continues to set our cultural pulse thanks to the strength and generosity of its supporters, and on Sept. 21, that support will be out in force.”
Ruth Rice covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/RuthRiceTD.
What: “Great Opera for a Great City.”
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Pitt-Johnstown campus, Richland Township.
Tickets: $60 for concert only; $150 for concert and post-concert reception.