Emerald City Opera brought together local musicians and international stars for its August 2008 production of "La Traviata."  The opera company was a finalist for the El Pomar Foundation's 2008 Awards for Excellence in the Arts.

Art Dana

Emerald City Opera brought together local musicians and international stars for its August 2008 production of "La Traviata." The opera company was a finalist for the El Pomar Foundation's 2008 Awards for Excellence in the Arts.

Opera group earns award nomination

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Reading from the event program of the El Pomar Foundation's Awards for Excellence, Emerald City Opera founder Keri Rusthoi can't help but notice the big names.

"We're dealing with a completely different level of organization here," she said, listing off the Colorado Springs Conservatory, Fremont Center for the Arts, National Jewish Health and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center as fellow nominees for the award.

Emerald City Opera was one of three finalists for El Pomar's 2008 Award for Excellence in the Arts, which the Colorado Springs Conservatory won. Rusthoi, who serves as artistic director for the opera company, said she was honored to be nominated for the award and to be selected as a finalist. The El Pomar Foundation is a Colorado Springs-based private organization dedicated to grant making and community stewardship.

"For such a young organization, I think it was pretty remarkable that we were given this opportunity so early in our career," Rusthoi said about the award, which includes $7,500 in grant money. This was the third time the company has been nominated for the award and the first time it was named a finalist.

Rusthoi said the award money likely would go toward the company's general operating fund, with special attention to funding the outreach and education efforts that stood out to the El Pomar selection committee.

"One of the things they identified that they really wanted to champion was how we combine local amateur musicians and international, professional artists," Rusthoi said. "That was one of the things they found the most compelling, and that's something we certainly want to continue."

Among the company's outreach efforts is the Opera Artist Institute for Emerging Singers. The program, new to the 2008 season, invites young and developing opera singers to Steamboat Springs for a four-week training program. In August, the program's inaugural class starred in a production of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," and sang small roles in the chorus for Verdi's "La Traviata."

Susanna Lockhart, a local musician who sang in the "La Traviata" chorus, said working with the young artists inspired her to apply for the 2009 opera institute program.

"You can learn so much from some amazing singers, and it's also really fun to sing with some other young singers who love opera," Lockhart said. In her first year as a student at Colorado Mountain College, Lockhart said she is taking advantage of the performing arts outlets available in Routt County.

"I think it's great. Steamboat has so many amazing musical opportunities," Lockhart said. "We have a lot more than people in some bigger cities, and it's a lot more personal."

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