If you think opera involves highbrow harmonies sung in Italian by temperamental tenors, Spokane’s newest opera company would like you to think again. At a recent rehearsal, members of Northwest Opera Works practiced a lighthearted Gilbert and Sullivan tune.
“We are dainty, little fairies … “ chorus members sang. But these fairies weren’t supposed to act delicately or sprightly. “Think clunky!” instructed stage director Tim Campbell. And the singers obliged, stomping through the comic number with gusto.
Founded by local voice teachers Nancy Klingman and Campbell, NOW held its first audition in November. “Holy Names is our umbrella organization,” Klingman said. “We couldn’t do it without their support.”
On April 16, the company will stage its debut concert, featuring selected scenes and arias from several operas, including “La Boheme,” “The Magic Flute” and “The Student Prince.”
Unlike conventional opera, most of the numbers will be sung in English. Campbell said, “I want the audience to understand what we’re singing about!”
Campbell and Klingman share a twofold passion: to make opera accessible and enjoyable for local audiences and to provide a showcase for area singers. “A lot of people spend a lot of time and money learning to sing, but unless you’re young or on the professional track, the chances to perform opera are very rare,” said Klingman.
The impetus for the creation of Northwest Opera Co. came from Campbell’s involvement with a similar group in Seattle. Last summer he helped a friend launch Fat Chance Opera. “It was established for the wannabes, the gonna-bes and the not-a-chance- in-hellabes,” he said.
He chuckled. “Getting to sing opera is really a big, fat chance!”
The venture proved both fun and successful. Campbell said, “I thought if we could do it in Seattle, we could do it here in Spokane.”
Twenty-five folks showed up at the November audition and every one of them was cast in the upcoming show. Veteran Civic Theatre and Spokane Opera performer James McArthur was one of them. “I love to sing opera,” he said. “I’m amazed by the quality of the talent we have in Spokane. I was blown away at the audition!”
Klingman also was delighted by the response. “We have a wide variety of ages. It’s truly wonderful.” Indeed, members of the company range from accomplished opera performers to novices.
Nathan Ghering counts himself a novice. He said he’s been involved with church music all his life. “I studied a little bit of music in college, but I hadn’t thought it would be my career.”
Yet now, he’s the music minister at Christ Church of Deer Park and studies voice with Klingman. “I’m enjoying learning new music,” Ghering said.
For Dr. Alina Peffer, Northwest Opera Works represents an opportunity to return to something she’s cherished since childhood. “I’ve always loved music,” she said. “I sang in conservatory when I was 18 and 19, but after that I didn’t sing for many years.”
The Ukraine native moved to the U.S. in 1988 to pursue a career in medicine. “Four years ago, I decided to return to my hobby and signed up for lessons with Nancy Klingman.”
To her delight, she found she enjoyed it even more. “My voice has matured,” Peffer said. “Singing gives me energy to do other things in my life. When I sing to other people, I receive as well as give.”
Those thoughts were echoed by Dawn Spicer. “I love the enjoyment that other people get out of the work you’ve done to prepare a piece,” she said.
Spicer fell in love with opera while a student at Washington State University. After graduation, she moved to Florida where she sang with the Orlando Opera Co. “I knew when we moved back to Spokane, I wanted to continue with a local opera company.”
She believes that NOW’s debut concert will demonstrate that “opera’s not highbrow. There’s a little something for everyone.”
To that end, Campbell said his goal for the concert is “to make it really entertaining. I want the time to fly by!”
He hopes this will be the first of many performances. “Eventually, we want to do a fully staged opera with a small orchestra.”
Campbell plans to keep concert tickets affordable. “We want to be able to expose more people to opera,” he said. “It really can be wonderful!”