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"This is my best cast ever," exults Renay Conlin as her two romantic leads in the coming Toledo Opera production, Il Trovatore, pose for photographs for this story.
And that's a good thing because, as the local opera company's general and artistic director adds, "This is a singer's opera. It has more tunes than any other opera Verdi wrote."
It also has a twisted and improbable story involving mistaken identity, vengeance, gypsy intrigue, murder and execution, and, of course, undying passion between Manrico, the singing army officer, and Leonora, the noble Spanish lady who loves him but is claimed by the powerful Count di Luna, Manrico's long lost brother.
A focused and unstoppable impresaria, Conlin has again played Cupid, bringing together a cast from points East and West to populate Il Trovatore ("The Troubadour"), one of the 20 most-performed works in the entire operatic repertoire. And, as Conlin notes in her latest Toledo Opera blog entry: "I love the music in this opera!!"
Returning to town in the role of Leonora is Kerri Marcinko, a lyric soprano with a smile as big as Texas (she's a grad of the Houston Opera Studio), a line of patter as quick as a New York minute (her home when she's not on the road), and an approach to her work as down-to-earth as Cleveland (her hometown).
Toledoans last heard Marcinko in the very dark role of Anne Putnam in the 2004 production of The Crucible.
This time, her operatic love interest is a singer with soul from Seoul: Dongwin Shin - pronounce his name like the famous operatic lover, Don Juan.
"He's a major voice," promises Conlin of the handsome young man who finished early training in his native South Korea, then studied in Philadelphia before hitting the performance high road. So far, his itinerary has included stops around the United States and Australia.
She's also eager to introduce Romanian baritone Sebastian Catana in the role of Count di Luna, bass Andrew Gangestad as Ferrando, and mezzo Robynne Redmon, as the gypsy Azucena.
For most of her cast, as well as for stage director Elizabeth Bachman, this local production will be their first performance of the Verdi masterpiece. This promises a higher level of involvement during rehearsals and right up to and through the final performance, Conlin notes.
"When you work with singers who have done it before, they may bring ideas from past productions. It's more exciting to work with them on their first production."
Marcinko calls it the "quintessential opera" to learn, and says the process of inhaling words, music, character, and emotion is painstaking and long.
"You need a good year to do it," she says. "First, you do your own translation and really look at the language. You need to understand the story and the background. Only then do I come to the notes."
Marcinko then begins training with a coach, who helps refine and coalesce what the singer has done into a memorable character. "The more you know the language, the more you can bring out in performance," she adds.
For Bachman, who says she's been in theater since age 5, this production is not only her Toledo debut but also her first go-round with the Verdi classic. "It's such glorious music, I wanted to do a pared-down production," she says.
Circumstances - most notably the mysterious explosion late last year in the Valentine Theatre, the opera's usual venue - made this show a natural for Bachman's desired approach.
Instead of the Valentine's deep stage, high fly, and large orchestra pit, the opera is fitting its production to a new stage: the Maumee Performing Arts Center at Maumee High School.
While praising the acoustics and general attributes of this facility, Conlin and Bachman realized some things had to give. First came the set originally on order - it simply wouldn't work. Then, the Toledo Symphony could not fit in the limited orchestra pit of the Maumee.
Bachman's solution taps opera's roots in Greek theater, in which there was no backstage, and incorporates more recent innovations from Japanese theater as well as the radical style of German producer Bertolt Brecht.
The orchestra and the Toledo Opera Chorus will be on stage throughout the eight scenes. Characters will step out of the chorus for solos. There will be breaches of the fourth wall, with soloists moving closer to the audience for arias.
"I'm choreographing all the transitions," Bachman explains, adding that the action will take place before a cyclorama fronted by a black scrim. "The idea is to make it a seamless theatrical whole."
Thomas Conlin will conduct the production. Also appearing in singing roles are tenor David Kaverman and soprano Margaret Mack, a Toledo native.
The Toledo Opera production of Verdi's "Il Trovatore" is to be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and March 7, as well as 2 p.m. March 9, in the Maumee Performing Arts Center at Maumee High School, 1147 Saco Street, Maumee. Tickets are $29-$80 at www.toledoopera.org or 419-255-7464.
Contact Sally Vallongo at: firstname.lastname@example.org.