Renay Conlin is no Simon Cowell.
Well, actually, maybe the general and artistic director of the Toledo Opera Association does function something like Cowell, the acerbic creator and former panelist of Fox television's hit show, "American Idol."
After all, both of them have high standards.
They are looking for a certain type of talent.
And Conlin and Cowell both know how to identify it.
Also, they are driven by the belief that art is too demanding to dillydally with anything but the best for their respective audiences.
Yearly, Conlin trolls for talent in New York City, center of the bustling international opera world, home of hundreds of hopeful divas.
“During annual auditions in New York City, I hear approximately 150 singers in a three-day period,” she says. (Could Simon handle the pressure?)
Sitting in a darkened hall, Conlin, a former operatic soprano herself, listens to highly-trained, up-and-coming sopranos, mezzos, contraltos, tenors, bassos, and baritones, one at a time. She's looking for artists who will deliver the musical and dramatic goods for Toledo audiences one or two years later.
Clearly, Conlin knows what she is doing here.
“First and foremost, I want to hear beautiful well-produced voices,” she told The Blade last month. “I am also seeking singers who are solid musicians and who have a strong command of languages.”
Opera, after all, comes in all sorts of styles and sizes — think of the TOA's coming season opening Oct. 8 and 10 with the edgy "Ariadne auf Naxos" by Richard Strauss, followed by Stravinsky's neo-classic "The Rake's Progress" Nov. 12-14, and Verdi's bodice-ripper, "La Traviata," to close the season April 1 and 3.
For Toledo, a conservative opera town, productions must be spot-on in every way to convince an audience. Conlin must find singers who can “sell” the music and story.
“Most of all, I want to be touched emotionally by the sincerity of their performance and the believability of their acting,” said.
“These are the qualities that make a singer memorable to an audience. The challenge is to find singers who embody all these talents.”
Conlin believes she brings a distinct perspective to the talent hunt.
“Generally I don't rely heavily on the opinions of other professionals in the business but trust my own instincts,” she said. “Perhaps because of my background as a singer, I listen in a different way than most opera directors, many of whom are stage directors or conductors.”
Certainly, she has far exceeded Simon Cowell in her ability to spot talent with lasting potential.
“I am very proud of my track record at Toledo Opera in recognizing and presenting singers who have gone on to major careers,” added Conlin. She mentions a few singers who have gone on to command national and international attention: Barbara Quintiliani, Roy Cornelius Smith, Heather Buck, Emily Pulley, Dean Peterson, Gary Lehman, and Ryan MacPherson.
The incandescent soprano Quintiliani made her debut here in the Viva Verdi gala in 2009 and became the hit of the Wexford Festival in Ireland, earning raves in Opera News magazine for her vocal color, range, flexibility, and intensity. Quintiliani will return to sing the title role in "Ariadne."
Joining Quintiliani on the Valentine stage will be Buck, who sparkled last spring in the TOA production of "Elixir of Love," and has since won accolades for performances elsewhere.
MacPherson, who has received plaudits for work at the Glimmerglass Opera, New York City Opera, and Opera Paris, will sing the lead in the Stravinsky work in November.
Also on deck in the area opera world will be student productions at Bowling Green State University and the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit. At press time, the Arbor Opera Theater had not published its upcoming season.
And for the devoted fans of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series, the management of Rave Motion Pictures, which took over nearly every local cinema last year, that esteemed series will continue at Fallen Timbers Cinemas in the shopping area west of Maumee.
FRIDAY: Bowling Green State University Opera Theatre presents Handel's Acis & Galatea with Mozart's The Impresario. 8 p.m. Kobacker Hall.
SEPT. 26 BGSU Opera Theatre presents Handel and Mozart. 3 p.m. Kobacker.
OCT. 8: Toledo Opera Association presents Ariadne auf Naxos. 8 p.m. Valentine Theatre.
OCT. 9: Metropolitan Opera Live in HD broadcasts Das Rheingold. 1 p.m. Fallen Timbers Cinemas.
OCT. 10: TOA Ariadne auf Naxos. 2 p.m. Valentine Theatre.
OCT. 10: Owens Community College presents Alice & Wonderland: A Rock Opera. 3 p.m. Center for Fine and Performing Arts. $15.
OCT. 16-24: Michigan Opera Theatre presents The Mikado. For times and tickets check www.motopera.org.
OCT. 23: Live at the Met. Boris Godunov. 1 p.m. Fallen Timbers.
NOV. 5-6: Bowling Green Opera Theatre presents Iolanthe. 8 p.m. Kobacker.
NOV. 12: Toledo Opera presents The Rake's Progress. 8 p.m. Valentine Theatre.
NOV. 13: Live at Met. Don Pasquale. 1 p.m. FTC.
NOV. 13-21: Michigan Opera Theatre. La Boheme.
NOV. 14: TOA The Rake's Progress. 2 p.m. Valentine.
JAN. 8: Live at Met. Girl of the Golden West. 1 p.m. FTC.
FEB. 12: TOA Gala, The Romance of the Ring. 8 p.m. Peristyle.
FEB. 12: Live at Met. Nixon in China. 1 p.m. FTC.
FEB. 26: Live at Met. Iphigenie en Tauride. 1 p.m. FTC.
MARCH 13: Live at Met. Lucia di Lammermoor. 1 p.m. FTC.
MARCH 24-27: BGSU Opera Theatre presents A Little Night Music, 8 p.m. Kobacker Hall. 2 p.m. matinee March 27.
APRIL 1: TOA presents La Traviata. 8 p.m. Valentine.
APRIL 3: La Traviata. 2 p.m. Valentine.
APRIL 9: Live at Met. Le Comte Ory. 1 p.m. FTC.
APRIL 9-17: MOT. The Magic Flute.
APRIL 23: Live at Met. Capriccio. 1 p.m. FTC.
APRIL 30: Live at Met. Il Trovatore. 1 p.m. FTC
MAY 14: Live at Met. Die Walkure. 1 p.m. FTC.
MAY 14-22: MOT. Rigoletto.
Classical music, dance & opera venues and presenters
Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, 220 East Huron St., Ann Arbor. www.a2so.com.
Ballet Theatre of Toledo, 1124 Corporate Drive, Holland. 419-861-0895. www.ballettheatreoftoledo.org.
Bowling Green State University Moore Musical Arts Center, Ridge Street. Festival Series Box Office: 419-372-8171. www.bgsu.edu.
Cassandra Ballet, 3157 West Sylvania Ave., 419-475-0458. www.cassandra ballet.com.
Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit. 313-961-3500. www.motopera.org.
Epworth United Methodist Church, 3077 Valley View Drive, Ottawa Hills. www.epworth.com.
First Presbyterian Church of Maumee, 200 East Broadway, Maumee.
Franciscan Theatre & Conference Center, Lourdes College, Sylvania. 419-824-3999. www.franciscancenter.org.
Hill Auditorium, 825 North University Ave., Ann Arbor.
Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. Michigan League, 911 North University Ave., Ann Arbor.
Masterworks Chorale. Ticket information: 419-246-8000. www.masterworkschorale.us.
Maumee Performing Arts Center, 1124 Saco St. at Maumee High School.
Michigan Opera Theatre, 1526 Broadway, Detroit. 313-961-3500. www.motopera.org.
Michigan Theater, 603 East Liberty St., Ann Arbor. 734-668-TIME.
Orchestra Hall at Max Fisher Center, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit. www.detroit symphony.com.
Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral, 2535 Collingwood Blvd. Tickets: 419-246-8000, 419-244-9575.
Owens Community College Center for Fine and Performing Arts, 30335 Oregon Rd., Perrysburg. 567-261-2787.
Power Center for the Arts, 121 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor.
Rackham Auditorium, 915 East Washington St., Ann Arbor.
River Raisin Center for the Arts, 114 South Main St., Monroe, Mich. 734-242-7722. www.riverraisincentre.org.
St. Francis of Assisi Church, 2250 East Stadium Blvd. Ann Arbor.
Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Box Office: 419-381-8851. www.stranahantheater.com.
Toledo Ballet, Westfield Franklin Park, 5001 Monroe St. 419-472-0049. www.toledoballet.net.
Toledo Opera, 425 Jefferson Ave., 419-255-7464. www.toledoopera.org.
Toledo Symphony, 1838 Parkwood Ave. 419-246-8000 or www.toledo symphony.com.
Trinity Episcopal Church, Adams and St. Clair streets. 419-243-1231. www.trinitytoledo.org.
University Musical Society, Ann Arbor, Mich. Box office/information: 734-764-2538. www.ums.org.
University of Toledo Center for the Performing Arts Recital Hall. West Towerview Boulevard and West Rocket Drive. Parking, Lot 12. www.utoledo.edu.
Valentine Theatre, 410 Adams St., 419-242-2787. www.valentinetheatre.com.
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