Exploring Steamboat: Horses, mountains and opera | SteamboatToday.com

Exploring Steamboat: Horses, mountains and opera

Lisa Schlichtman

— Keri Rusthoi always thought horses, mountains and opera went together, so in 2001, she set out to create that unlikely combination by hosting a summer opera production of "The Magic Flute" in Steamboat Springs. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, postponed the performance, but it eventually took place the following summer, marking the beginning of the Emerald City Opera, now in its 12th year.

"Putting together an opera is only a little less work than putting together an opera company, so that's what we did," said Keri, an accomplished performer and vocalist in her own right who has studied at the Manhattan School of Music and holds a master's degree in vocal performance from the University of New Mexico. Keri's musical pedigree also includes touring Europe as an opera singer.

Now 12 years later, Keri and company are preparing for a pair of Opera Scenes concerts Aug. 10 and 16 and two performances of Giuseppe Verdi's comedy, "Falstaff," during the third weekend in August.

The local opera company also has expanded to include an Opera Artist Institute for Emerging Artists, which attracts some of the country's top young opera talent to Steamboat for three weeks of intensive coaching and instruction from the world-renowned artists starring in the summer stage production. That program is marking its seventh year this summer.

"We're in a remote area, and we have to import everyone and everything," Keri said, noting that she is able to lure famous opera performers to Steamboat because of its natural beauty and first-class amenities.

"They will come here and spend three weeks for less than they get paid for one performance in Manhattan," added Keri, who serves as Emerald City Opera's artistic director.

Keri's explanation of how professional opera arrived in Steamboat was an answer to one of the many questions I had about the local opera scene, which has been on my radar since a chance meeting with Emerald City Opera board chairman Jack Dysart at the Depot Art Center last fall.

I am not an opera aficionado, and I never have attended a professional opera performance, but Jack's enthusiasm was contagious and I wanted to learn more about another one of Steamboat's cultural offerings.

And after talking opera with Jack and Keri, I am looking forward to securing my ticket for "Falstaff," which will be performed Aug. 15 and 17 at the Steamboat Springs High School auditorium.

Jack and Keri promise me that I'm destined to become a fan from the first falsetto.

"If you're not passionate about opera, you just haven't seen good opera," Jack said.

And introducing newbies like me to opera is one of the guiding purposes of the local opera company.

"We have a huge job in advocacy and education," Jack said.

This effort includes bringing opera into local classrooms through a new "Opera on Tour" program. Last year, local performers were recruited for a touring opera troupe that performed "Little Miss Butterfly" for area second- through fifth-graders. The production entertained youngsters in Steamboat, Meeker, Craig, Hayden and North and South Routt, and the program will return this school year.

"We are trying to produce world-class opera, and this is one way to try to teach Northwest Colorado what good opera is," Jack said.

"We want them to know opera rocks," Keri added.

With a small budget that depends a lot on in-kind donations, including lodging for the opera performers and orchestra members, Emerald City Opera has been amazingly successful.

"It's a big deal, and every year we pull together a miracle," Keri said. "It's unheard of that a small town like Steamboat has a year-round professional opera. We add to the cultural amenities that make Steamboat so special."

For more information about Emerald City Opera, its educational programs and upcoming performances, visit http://www.emeraldcityopera.com.

I invite readers to suggest places you'd like me to explore, people you want me to meet or activities you'd like me to try. You can reach me at lschlichtman@SteamboatToday.com or 970-871-4221.