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Inland Northwest Opera launches “Opera Gram”

UPDATED: Thu., June 18, 2020

Baritone Max Mendez, music professor and director of choirs at North Idaho College, performs regularly with Inland Northwest Opera. This summer, Mendez will participate in INO’s “Opera Gram” lineup. (Courtesy)
Baritone Max Mendez, music professor and director of choirs at North Idaho College, performs regularly with Inland Northwest Opera. This summer, Mendez will participate in INO’s “Opera Gram” lineup. (Courtesy)

Although Inland Northwest Opera’s 2020 season has been suspended, the company remains focused on finding new and innovative means of bringing live opera to the Inland Northwest. Inland Northwest Opera’s new “Opera Gram” program will allow fans to book short drive-by performances of opera standards while maintaining the safety of artists and audiences alike.

“We’re constantly reinventing ourselves, planning and adjusting to the times,” Inland Northwest Opera general director Dawn Wolski said. “It’s definitely not been boring.”

After deciding to suspend their 2020 season in April, Wolski and the Inland Northwest Opera board began brainstorming ways to bring opera to the community while keeping audiences and artists safe. There were several options available that would have mitigated audience safety concerns, but almost all would still be putting their artists in a difficult spot.

“In pretty much any other industry, you can wear a mask; singers can’t really wear masks,” Wolski said. “And without our singers, who are we? They are the lifeblood of our industry, and it’s my job to make sure I’m considering them at the same time.”

At first, livestreaming seemed like a viable option, but as health warnings about the elevated risk of live singing in close quarters began, Wolski knew she couldn’t in good conscience bring an entire cast of artists together for rehearsals, let alone performances. And even if livestreaming had been an option, Wolski felt strongly that finding a safe means of providing some kind of in-person performance was a real priority.

“We’ve spent three months at our computers in Zoom meetings and online with so much virtual content – I just felt that it was critical to bring people a live experience if we could find a safe way to do it,” Wolski said.

So, when she started to see opera companies around the country pulling together singing telegram outreach programs, she jumped at the chance to bring something similar to the Inland Northwest.

This week marks the start of “Opera Gram,” a program that will allow patrons of Inland Northwest Opera to book local opera singers for short performances – one to two arias chosen from a provided list – from the safety of their front porches.

“The power of opera is in hearing it live,” she said. “These are the most resonant voices on the planet singing directly to you, unamplified, and that can’t be fully captured in any other way than in person.”

Since launching this week, Inland Northwest Opera has had more than a dozen bookings. Patrons can book opera grams online through Inland Northwest Opera’s website. “Opera Truck,” a separate outreach-oriented initiative set to launch in August, will bring free miniature opera “flash mobs without the mob” to neighborhoods and community centers all over the Inland Northwest, as health recommendations allow.

Baritones Brandon Michaels and Max Mendez and soprano Amy Porter will deliver a majority of the performances with special appearances by Wolski and her husband, Spokane Symphony concertmaster Mateusz Wolski. Soprano Madison Leonard and baritone Shea Owens, who would have performed in the opera’s now-suspended production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” also will be available on certain dates to be announced later this summer.

“Artists have been hit extremely hard during this time, artists across the board have lost almost all of their income for the next year, so it’s exciting to me to find a way not only to bring joy to my patrons but also to nurture and support our regional artists,” Wolski said. Booking fees will be split between the opera and performing artists. “The community has been supportive throughout, and that just really continues to remind us that the community wants what we bring them.”

Requests for standard classics like Giacomo Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro,” “Donde lieta” and “Nessun dorma,” as well as pieces like “O sole mio,” made famous by Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli have already started pouring in. Wolski plans to offer opera-contemporary crossover pieces like “The Prayer” as well.

“The last three months have really forced flexibility on everyone,” Wolski said. “Everything that was programmed for this season, we will definitely be bringing back in the next couple of seasons,whether it’s next year or the year after.”

For more information on Inland Northwest Opera’s “Opera Gram” program, visit

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