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Opera Memphis Gala

60 and Sensational

Story and Photos by Rebekah Yearout

Opera Memphis celebrated decades of success at its “60 and Sensational Opera Memphis Gala” at the Clark Opera Memphis Center on Wolf River Parkway.

The gala featured a wall covered in various posters from the past 60 years of performances Opera Memphis has held, from “Phantom of the Opera” to “Carmen.”

The gala also celebrated the success of the 2017 season, during which Opera Memphis saw a full house for five performances of various masterworks operas, including record sellouts for “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Pirates of Penzance.” The 2016-17 season was also the fifth year of the nationally-acclaimed “30 Days of Opera” program, during which more than 36,000 Mid-Southerners saw a free 30 Days of Opera performance. Also impressively, more than 1,400 people bought their very first tickets to an opera during the past season.

Opera Memphis also celebrated the Midtown Opera Festival, which brought contemporary American operas to the stage of Playhouse on the Square.

Tickets to the gala included dinner and dessert served by Heart and Soul Catering, a complimentary beer and wine bar and seats for live entertainment. VIP ticketholders and table sponsors also could visit the Speakeasy Martini Bar, a small, warm and welcoming environment in the back of the center.

Jonathan M. Ealy, Venue Director for the Clark Opera Memphis Center, said it was a beautiful evening.

“We were excited, it was a wonderful event,” Ealy said, adding he knew more than 200 people attended.

He also praised the performers: Chris Abide (tenor), Chelsea Miller (soprano), Nikola Printz (mezzo), special guest Kallen Esperian (soprano) and Marie-Stephane Bernand. Bernard, an soprano singer and native Parisian, sings opera as well as other styles of music, including songs by Edith Piaf.

In the midst of the scheduled entertainment, attendees were treated to a surprise: Opera Memphis General Director Ned Canty introduced Joy Nicholls, who performed in the first fully-staged Opera Memphis performance in 1957—and still has a captivating voice.

“She was the first Violetta in our 1957 of “La Traviata,” and we’re actually doing “La Traviata” in the fall, which is amazing,” Ealy said.

Chris Abide and Nikola Printz are young artists with Opera Memphis’ artists-in-residence program, which is held in conjunction with the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music in Memphis. During his introduction of the young singers, Canty said they had just recently gone to a school in the Vollentine area, and they had the students “captivated” with their talent.

“It was just amazing to see so many young children that excited by opera,” Canty said at the gala.

Opera Memphis also announced its 2017-2018 season, which features Verdi’s “La Traviata” and Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” both of which will be held at the Germantown Performing Arts Center. The 2018 Midtown Opera Festival will feature Scarlatti’s “The Triumph of Honor” and the world premieres of five new operas, all inspired by Memphis.

During the 2016-2017 season, Opera Memphis won awards and earned financial support from the National Endowment for the Arts, won an Excellence in Innovation Award from the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence and was elected to a seat on the Board of Directors for Opera America. Canty himself was honored as the 2017 CEO of the Year by Inside Memphis Business, while Trustee Marsh Gibson received the 2017 National Recognition Award from Opera America.

Opera Memphis thanked several organizations for making the last season possible: The Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation, ArtsMemphis, the Tennessee Arts Commission, AutoZone’s ArtsZone, Art Works, National Endowment for the Arts and the National Opera Center of Memphis.


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