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Voices of the Valley

Rogue Opera will present Voices from the Valley, staged scenes from operas by Bizet, Handel, Verdi, Strauss, Rossini, Mozart, Delibes, Britten, Offenbach and others at 8 p.m. Friday, March 7, at the Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland; and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 9, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2000 Oakwood Dr., Medford.

Rogue Opera's artistic director, Willene Gunn, will direct the concert. She will be joined by music director, vocal coach and pianist Laurie Anne Hunter.

The performance is a culmination of the annual opera workshop and collaboration with Southern Oregon University as a part of Rogue Opera's educational series for student, community, and professional opera singers in the valley.

It is an opportunity for 15 singers at all levels of expertise to work with Gunn and Hunter on strengthening areas of weakness and to further develop areas of strength within the participants' own performing aptitude vocally, musically and dramatically.

Music for the scenes to be performed was assigned during the week following the audition. Music direction and vocal coaching took place at the same time as staging rehearsals each Thursday starting last January 10 for nine weeks. There is no charge for participating in the program. SOU students applying for college credit had to pay tuition fees.

The concert will feature six professionals and 14 SOU voice majors performing in scenes from 13 operas. Featured performers include Tricia Pine, Fredna Grimland, Marian Horton, Karli Krueger, Jennifer Matsuura, Dan Gibbs, Maria Ciamaichelo, Brett Aakre, Sharise Blaylock, Leoni Lanzas, Cassandra Tolman, Susan Haddorff, Rachel Gallegher, Scott Scholes, Jason Schelin, Elizabeth Helder, Elizabeth Lord, Brandt Nakamura and Jenny Bynum.

The opera scenes span a time frame from 1735 to 1960, and will be a wonderful opportunity to introduce the audience to the vast depth and variety of opera repertoire. The music expresses themes of comedy, tragedy, disguise, love, deception, magic, revenge and just plain fun.

Gunn recently moved to Talent after serving for 30 years as director of the Conservatory Opera Program of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Gunn taught voice at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and staged operas in workshops at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Nevada. She directed more than 80 major works by Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Bernstein and other major composers for Nevada, Sacramento, Arizona operas, the San Francisco Opera Center and other companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. A graduate of the San Francisco Opera Merola Program, Gunn performed extensively on the West Coast as a dramatic mezzo-soprano with the San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Oakland and Nevada Opera companies. She performed in operetta, musical comedy and legitimate theater, in roles ranging from most of the mezzo-soprano roles in Gilbert and Sullivan, and the alto leads in several musicals.

Hunter is a native of Pasadena and received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Winnipeg and a Master's degree from the Juilliard School in New York. She spent five seasons as an assistant conductor and vocal coach with the New York City Opera, making her conducting debut there in 1992.

Guest conducting appearances followed. She was associate conductor of "Phantom of the Opera" in Toronto and "Show Boat" on Broadway. She has served as assistant conductor and vocal coach for many regional opera companies throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival brought her to Ashland as musical director and pianist for "Enter the Guardsman" in 2001 and she is currently on the adjunct faculty at Southern Oregon University.

A "meet the artists" Reception will follow each concert. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for students for the SOU performance; those also are the suggested donations at the church.

Tickets are available at the door or through Rogue Opera. Proceeds benefit Rogue Opera's educational programs and collaborations with SOU.

For more information see www.rogueopera.org or call the Rogue Opera office at 608-6400.

Lorrie Hall and Ellie Murray in Rogue Opera’s 2007 Voices in the Valley concert. This year’s show will feature scenes from 13 operas. - Photo courtesy of Rogue Opera