Opera stars share why they spend summers with the Utah Festival Opera – The Herald Journal: Cache Magazine
Posted by admin | Posted in Share Everything | Posted on 12-06-2012-05-2008
For the past two weeks, accomplished opera singers from new York City, Boston and all over the country have been arriving in Logan, Utah, for the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre’s 20th season. Many of them are return guests who have sung with the Utah Festival Opera before. This week, Cache Magazine interviewed three principal singers from this year’s season to find out why, when the rest of the year they’re busy singing with the Metropolitan Opera, teaching music at the new England conservatory or singing at Carnegie Hall, they love coming to perform in Logan year after year.
“This is my extended family,” said mezzo soprano Vanessa Schukis, who marks her 11th season with the Utah Festival Opera Company this year. “I have just very personal relationships with the returning summer citizens, as well as families in Logan.”
Schukis continued: “It’s just sort of what this place is about, an ennobling experience. when you come here you leave here a better person.”
For baritone Kyle Pfortmiller, who has been singing with the Metropolitan Opera for two years and with the Utah Festival Opera going on four seasons, the Utah Festival Opera’s appeal is all about the quality of the productions.
“How I keep coming back is that Michael (Ballam) makes offers that can’t say no to,” Pfortmiller said. “I can’t do the shows that he offers me anywhere else with the same kind of orchestra and the same kind of people, same kind of colleagues, it’s just impossible.”
Pfortmiller said where musical theaters everywhere are downsizing, substituting a full orchestra with fewer musicians and synthesized parts, the Utah Festival Opera performs its classic operas and musicals how the composer originally intended: with a full, live orchestra.
Because of that quality of production, the competition to sing with the Utah Festival Opera Company is stiff, even for world-class singers. Soprano Jessica Medoff estimated that of the 1,000-plus singers that Utah Festival Opera director Michael Ballam hears at auditions every year, he is only able to hire about 70, many of which are returning guests.
Many singers audition multiple times before earning a much-coveted role at the Utah Festival Opera. Pfortmiller, for example, said he auditioned for Ballam four or five times before securing a role in the 2005 production of “Kismet.” For the Metropolitan Opera, he only had to audition once before he was hired there.
Pfortmiller said competition is high throughout the industry in general, and, as a professional opera singer, rejection is more the rule than the exception. he estimated a full-time singer could expect to be hired for only about 5 percent of the roles for which he or auditions.
Despite the odds, that doesn’t mean auditioning isn’t a pleasant experience, especially when it comes to Ballam, he said.
“I auditioned for Mr. Ballam, I think, four times,” said Medoff, who is singing Marguerite in “Faust” and Judy Garland in “A Tribute to Judy Garland” this year. “Every time he was as nice as could be, and so positive and encouraging to young singers. everybody in new York that I speak to just always remarks at what a great audition that was with Mr. Ballam – and then he gave me candy. and then, eventually, he’ll give you a job.”
Medoff said Ballam has an uncanny ability to remember people, and to match roles to people’s specific talents.
“I sang for (Ballam) four times before he cast me, and I actually appreciate the care he took with the way he cast me,” Medoff said. “It’s just a really good place to grow, to feel comfortable, it’s my first time singing the role (of Marguerite), and I know that this is a very nurturing environment in which to do it.”
That was one thing each of the singers reiterated: the nurturing, friendly, fun environment at the Utah Festival Opera Company, and in Logan during the summer.
“Last summer, I made so many wonderful friends in the festival because Dr. Ballam is really good at choosing good colleagues, and humble, down-to-earth, fun people,” Medoff said. “I think he has a really good sense for finding good people, with a good spirit, and that makes the summer a lot more fun.”
Medoff said it doesn’t hurt that all of the guest artists get to live in the same apartment complex, which is owned by the opera company. Performers are welcome to bring their children, husbands, wives and dogs with them – another aspect that makes a job with the Utah Festival Opera so appealing – and most everyone in the complex enjoys cooking together, going on hikes, going to the gym or just hanging out between shows and rehearsals.
“I know my colleagues, people that are in the same place in their careers as I am, all would be very, very honored to be hired here – for all of the reasons we’ve mentioned,” Medoff said. “It’s not just the quality of the shows, or just the choice of repertoire or the people, it’s just everything together. You’re always looking for a good experience – that you get paid for.”