Karen Onan raises her voice

She will be the first musician to perform in Resident Artist Spotlight

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During the afternoon, Karen Onan's operatic voice can be heard in the parking lot of her condo complex.

Like many artists who choose to pursue their art while living in a mountain town, Onan's life is a collage of the creative slipped among the practical.

She works full time at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore and practices opera arias when her neighbors are at work.

Onan's light, soprano voice fills her living room and kitchen as she warms up, preparing for tonight's concert. Onan is the first musician to be presented in Emerald City Opera's ongoing Resident Artist Spotlight Series.

It's a chance for Steamboat Springs to meet a talented singer and an opportunity for Onan to perform.

Onan lived in Steamboat for four years before returning to school at the University of Northern Colorado. It took her three years to get a master's degree in vocal performance.

While she was in school, Onan heard that Keri Rustoi was starting an opera company in Steamboat.

"She contacted me while she was still in Greeley," Rustoi said. "Starting an opera company was her dream, too. She said that she wanted to move back to Steamboat and be a part of it."

Onan moved back to Steamboat in the spring and sang in the chorus of "The Magic Flute" during the summer. When Rustoi began planning the Resident Artist Spotlight Series, Onan was the first musician to come to mind.

"The idea behind this series is to feature the local musicians who are working at a professional level but choose to live in Steamboat," Rustoi said. "And there are many.

Karen is exactly what I'm talking about."

Rustoi and Onan met for the first time while working at Steamboat Ski School in 1996.

"Then both of us left to get graduate degrees at different times and pursue singing," Rustoi said. "Karen came back after I had already started the opera company, and anything we can do to support her in her singing career, that is what we want to do."

For tonight's concert, Onan will sing a couple of arias from popular operas. She will sing one Broadway tune, several art songs and some Christmas carols.

She chose two songs by modern composer Richard Hundley, whose music she was introduced to during her undergraduate years at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire. She will be singing, "Come Ready and See Me," one of Hundley's best-known works.

"The songs I chose are love poems," Onan said. "The music is so pretty. It's definitely 20th-century music, but it's not weird."

Onan also will introduce audience members to the work of French composer Emmanuel Chabrier.

Chabrier lived during music's Romantic period, when music attempted to mimic the stories it told. He had a satirical sense of humor, Onan said, and much of his work is a rib poke at the people around him.

"Ballade des gros dindons" (Ballad of the Fat Turkeys) makes fun of the bourgeois and the "way they waddle around full of self-importance," Onan said. "I discovered Chabrier and thought he was really funny.

"I hope people come to this performance because they really love music and want to hear someone sing. I also want (the skeptics) to come and discover that they like this kind of music. I think, in general, that's the goal of the opera."

Onan has been singing since she was "old enough to sing." She grew up in Amherst, Wis., a town of 700 people, and the small community gave her every opportunity to sing.

She sang in community theater and in high school musicals.

"I didn't know about opera then," she said. "All I knew was that I wanted to sing."

Onan discovered opera during college when she signed up for an "opera scenes" class.

"It just fascinated me," she said. "I fell in love with it."

The school she attended started an opera outreach program, wherein singers visited the elementary schools and performed an operatic version of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

Onan is heading up efforts in Steamboat to start a similar opera program for area schools through Emerald City Opera. The program is in the planning stages, but Onan plans to see it in schools by next spring.

If Emerald City Opera can find a sponsor, the next Resident Artist Spotlight will feature Mary Beth Norris on flute.

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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