Opera working to bring big-name stars to town

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— "What gloom!" cried the baritone, rising out of the dungeon under a groaning stone. I cried for it. That's how I see life too. I was so interested in the opera that for a while I forgot the circumstances of my crazy life and got lost in the great mournful sounds of Beethoven and the rich Rembrandt tones of his story.

"Well, Sal, how did you like the production for this year?" asked Denver D. Doll proudly in the street outside. He was connected with the opera association.

"What gloom, what gloom," I said. "It's absolutely great."

This excerpt from Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" describes the writer's experience of seeing the opera "Fidelio" more than 50 years ago in Central City, maybe the most famous account of opera in the Rocky Mountains.

"That's what opera and entertainment is all about," Steamboat Springs' Emerald City Opera founder and director Keri Rusthoi said. "Forget about our measly little lives and realize the extent of the human condition."

On Saturday, opera singer Dominique Moralez is giving Steamboat Springs a taste of the power of opera, as well as a preview of what is to come from the Rusthoi's Emerald City Opera.

Moralez, whose ringing tenor voice has made him a familiar face in the opera world, is performing a recital at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Steamboat.

He then will return in August to play the lead role in Mozart's "The Magic Flute," which will be Emerald City Opera's first full-scale production.

The opera company plans to put on an opera each year in Steamboat.

"I am more than happy to come out and do this concert," Moralez said by phone. "It's the first opportunity for most of the public (in Steamboat) to be introduced to opera."

Indeed, opera isn't something that pops up in Steamboat very often or ever. Rusthoi and her friends are going to change that.

She studied at the Manhattan School of Music and most recently returned from touring Europe with Opera New York's 2001 production "The Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber," in which she performed the role of Christine from "The Phantom of the Opera." Her list of singing accomplishments runs long.

An American opera singer probably should live in New York City, but the city is no place for a girl from New Mexico.

"New York was hell to me," Rusthoi said. "For me as a human being, I have to live here."

So Rusthoi is pursuing her trade in the Yampa Valley. Her vision is to combine local artists working on a professional level with the elite working professionals in opera.

"It makes us a little different than other organizations in town," she said.

She raised support from businesses and community members and used her contacts to get some of the top opera performers to commit to shows in Steamboat. Now the ball is rolling.

Emerald City Opera's first event was May 23, when bass vocalist LeRoy Lehr performed in a recital, with pianist Pamela Pyle. Lehr also will perform in the "The Magic Flute" in August.

A benefit dinner also was held last Aug. 30 with baritone David Malis, who performed 11 years at the Metropolitan Opera and is the director of the Crested Butte Music Festival.

Moralez is Emerald City Opera's next big performer, and it's the first event of this caliber being made accessible to the public.

Tickets are $22, $12 for students, which Rusthoi said is a steal to hear someone of Moralez's caliber.

"This is not a typical or very stilted or stuffy recital," Moralez said. "It's a little bit more digestible : we didn't want to bore them to tears with too dense of literature."

Moralez chose selections that will be recognizable to many people, as well as some more traditional opera pieces.

Moralez said he is excited to perform to a new audience in Steamboat. Introducing the art form to new groups of people brings him a certain amount of enjoyment.

"To come back to the states now and to have the opportunity to sing to audiences that are native English speakers is really a great opportunity for me," he said.

He has seen how opera can transfix its fans. Moralez has performed in Italy, Germany and throughout Europe, where opera is hugely popular and the shows are always sold out. And the opera fans are not the stuffy elite either, Moralez said. People of all walks of life and of all ages are interested in opera in Europe.

"The response to opera is just incredible. Rome is the most incredible. The Italians are mad about it," he said.

All it takes is to be turned onto the art form.

"It's my hope that I will be able to turn them onto it."

Tickets will be available at the door or by calling 879-1996.

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