Mark Thomsen brings his magic to Emerald City Opera

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Days ago, operatic tenor Mark Thomsen returned to the United States after a tour of China. His first show after singing Mozart's "The Magic Flute" with the Beijing Music Festival and the Hong Kong Opera will be in Steamboat Springs.

He is coming to this tiny town on his first visit to Steamboat for one reason: He loves opera.

"I love opera very much, and any startup company who needs help, I will certainly want to be a part of it," Thomsen said.

Thomsen met Emerald City Opera's Executive Director Keri Rustoi at an opera festival in Crested Butte. He was in Colorado for the music and some fly fishing.

Rustoi talked to him about her new opera company in Steamboat and asked if he would be willing to sing with them. He agreed without hesitation.

Thomsen comes to Steamboat with almost 30 years of opera experience on his resume. He has performed with the operas of New York City, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas and Boston, has toured Europe, Japan and China and has performed several times on "Prairie Home Companion" as an amorous pizza delivery guy singing a funny version of the famous "O Sole Mio."

"That was just a lot of fun," he said. "It turned out that people really liked it and we had to do another pizza commercial."

He said he believes in using opportunities such as Garrison Keillor's show and performing in the recent production of "Don Pasquale" in Orlando to bring opera to the mainstream.

"Don Pasquale" tells the story of a rich guardian who uses his money to control the life of his heir. He threatens to change his will unless the young man accepts the terms of an arranged marriage. Antics ensue.

The Orlando Opera chose to update "Don Pasquale" by including a hot tub, videos and cell phones.

"At one point, I drive on stage in a Mini Cooper and pop out of the sunroof to sing," Thomsen said. "People loved it.

"Opera is growing in popularity. Even with cutbacks in funding, I still think the enthusiasm is there."

Thomsen discovered opera as a student at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota where he enrolled as a sociology major, intending to be a lawyer.

"I'd had music lessons growing up and done some singing in high school," Thomsen said, "but that was mostly to be near the girls in the choir."

During his freshman year of college, he signed up for voice lessons and received immediate encouragement from his teachers.

"One of my voice teachers entered me in a contest, and I won" he said. "By the end of my sophomore year, I changed my major to music."

After graduation, he went from the Minnesota Opera to Rochester, N.Y., for a master's degree and then to Houston, Texas, to apprentice for three years.

In that last year, he found an agent and landed a part in Leonard Bernstein's "A Quiet Place."

Thomsen has never doubted his career choice.

"I love the stories, and the music is so challenging. I am a vocal athlete, in a way," he said. "And the payoff is people really understand the music and the text; when that happens, it's such a fantastic thing. It's indescribable this excitement I have all the time. You get on stage and whatever emotional batteries you have going, you just go for it and see how it comes out. It's probably the most exciting thing I can think of to do."

Thomsen is the first in Emerald City Opera's Outstanding Artist Recital Series. The series features recognized professionals performing operatically inspired programs.

Additional concerts in the series will include violinist David Felberg, soprano Jane Thorngren and tenor Walter MacNeill.

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