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Spokane Opera beefs up for 25th season

Gregory Carroll, who makes his Spokane Opera debut Saturday, returns in March for “I Pagliacci.”  Courtesy of Spokane Opera (Courtesy of Spokane Opera / The Spokesman-Review)
Gregory Carroll, who makes his Spokane Opera debut Saturday, returns in March for “I Pagliacci.” Courtesy of Spokane Opera (Courtesy of Spokane Opera / The Spokesman-Review)

Saturday’s Gala Concert at Fox features new, old faces, pieces

The proverbial fat lady isn’t ready to sing for Spokane Opera quite yet.

In anticipation of its 25th season next year, the local arts group is staging a Gala Concert on Saturday at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox.

Most of the program will feature familiar pieces and performers from previous Spokane Opera productions, ranging from such operatic classics as “La Boheme,” “Carmen” and “The Mikado” to more modern musicals including “Porgy & Bess,” “West Side Story” and “Showboat.”

Making his Spokane Opera debut is Seattle-area tenor Gregory Carroll, who will sing the lead role of Canio in the group’s March production of “I Pagliacci” at The Fox.

“Considering what a number of arts organizations have gone through, are going through, we feel fortunate to still be here,” says Bill Graham, Spokane Opera’s executive director.

The company debuted in 1986 as Uptown Opera at Lindaman’s restaurant, with “The Impresario.” After outgrowing that space, it appeared for many years at the former Metropolitan Performing Arts Center (now the Bing Crosby Theater) before temporarily moving to Central Valley High School until The Fox reopened.

Along the way, Spokane Opera also:

• Launched its New Year’s Eve gala, Diamonds and Divas, at the Davenport Hotel in 2001;

• Returned to opera dinner theater in 2002, at Luigi’s Italian Restaurant (“people said they missed the Lindaman’s one-act operas,” Graham explains);

• and started a summer variety program, Hot August Night, in 2005 at Mirabeau Meadows Park in the Spokane Valley, later expanding it to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

Saturday’s program will draw on all of those performances over the years, and feature such standbys as Heather and Derrick Parker, Heather Peterson, Heather Holzapfel, Susan Windham and Steve Mortier (whose wife, Patti Blankenship-Mortier, will make her Spokane Opera debut).

Carroll, the winner of this year’s Metropolitan Opera Career Grant, will sing both “Vesti la giubba” from “I Pagliacci” and “Ch’ella mi creda” from Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West,” as well as “Maria” from “West Side Story.”

“He has that big, Puccini voice,” says Graham.

Everyone will be featured in the finale, “Make Our Garden Grow” from “Candide.” Randi Von Ellefson, Spokane Opera’s first resident conductor before leaving for Chicago in 1996, will return to conduct the piece.

Concertgoers will receive a booklet about Spokane Opera’s history, including interviews with founder Marjory Halvorson, current resident conductor Dean Williamson and resident accompanist Greg Presley.

Both Presley and Rachelle Ventura will be featured on piano Saturday, along with violinist Tracy Dunlop. Dunlop’s Tedesco Quartet will play in the Fox lobby prior to the concert.

Since Saturday is Halloween, there will be a costume contest at intermission with a prize for the winner.

Last-minute student “rush” tickets will be available for $7 at The Fox box office between 6 and 7:30 p.m. The box office will open early Saturday, at noon, for regular ticket buyers.