March 2008

2007 was our 20th year of putting on workshops in Washington, D.C. and Boston during the summer. They seem to be getting better and better, although the past 5 or 6 years the workshops have been of exceptional high quality. This past summer saw a new level, with beautiful, expressive singing and wonderfully acted performances. In Washington we performed the opera "Tony Caruso's Last Broadcast" by Paul Salerni. It was the winner in the opera competition for the National Opera Association in January 2007 (where I staged scenes from the three finalists). It was such a good opera, we decided to produce it in Washington at our summer workshop. We usually perform one program of one-act operas, and although this one act opera was almost an hour long, it still fit perfectly into our plans. The one problem with the work, however, was that the opera requires three leads of exceptional vocal ability. We started planning, with our fingers crossed that we would find them. Lo and behold, a young tenor from Texas applied and we exclaimed "We have our Tony." What luck! Rafael Moras was amazing. He has an extraordinary voice, strong, secure, and expressive beyond his years. Although inexperienced, he has an abundance of talent and the ability to focus and work very hard. He is an excellent musician and learned the not so easy music with no difficulty. Besides talent, Rafael is one of the nicest, unpretentious people around.
During our auditions a soprano, Heather Bingham, sang for us and right away we recognized she was so good she would be perfect for the Maria Callas part -- very strong, solid voice with beauty and a thrilling high C. A wonderful mezzo, Carrie Coultas, from the year before contacted us and said she would like to join us if possible after finishing another performance. Bang, we had our Dark Lady, a role that needs a strong, beautiful voice. We were SO lucky that these singers came our way. The production was a smash hit.
Problems always seem to arise, though. The young man singing the Engineer had to return home due to a family illness, this after we had already been staging the piece. We contacted a local singer, John Boulanger, who had been in our workshops several times many years ago. He agreed to join us and within two days he had the entire role learned and immediately brought subtleties to the part that only a mature artist is able to do. The composer, his wife, the librettist and an overflowing house greatly benefited from our amazingly fortuitous convergence of talent and effort.
We had the Metropolitan soprano, Sharon Sweet, join us as our Guest Artist. She was wonderfully informative and charming in her delivery. Again, we lucked out.
Boston also went beyond our great expectations. We had nine tenors and one countertenor, an unheard of and perhaps embarrassing abundance of riches. As one director observed, the tenors were all genuinely nice people, so we had no divos or conflict, and they helped each other generously. Who has heard of that before? There was more artistry in this entire group of singers than we had ever seen before. Everyone had the best attitude, which with their talent and remarkable voices, led directly to magnificent performances. Our staff has felt privileged to work with both the Washington and Boston singers of the last several years. Our Guest Artist was the renowned countertenor and director, Drew Minter. He spoke with such knowledge, precision and wisdom that everyone was enthralled and wanted the session to continue when we finished.
We are so proud of the singers who have come through our program and hope we have helped them as their careers blossom. Here is the news of some of those who have come to our attention. Eric Fennell (who attended three of our summer opera programs and some other classes) was our Guest Artist in Boston in 2006. He was one of the best presenters we have ever had. He is young and struggling to establish a career, so the singers could easily relate to Eric. He gave out specific information in a most charming and energetic manner. He showed the importance of "Making the music happen." He showed them what a true professional looks like (and he sang an aria for us that was absolutely first-rate in every way). He has been singing at the New York City Opera and opera companies throughout the United States. Alex Puhrer (baritone) has sung at the Graz Opera and the Breganz Festival. Joanna Mongiardo has performed with the New York City Opera, Central City Opera and the Dusseldorf Deutche Oper am Rhein. Kelly Kaduce is singing in many major opera houses and upon occasion is featured in Opera News Magazine. Jennifer Wilson, a graduate of the COS program is presently singing Senta with the Washington National Opera in Wagner's Dutchman. Gerard Powers who has been singing leads with NY City Opera will travel to Russia to sing Don Jose with the Bolshoi opera. Elizabeth Vrenios was recently elected to the office of national President elect of the National Opera Association. She is inaugurating a week long workshop in Mendocino, California this year in June. For more information, see our workshop page.
I am sad to relate that Betsy Parcells, who attended our Boston workshop, passed away last year from cancer after establishing herself as a wonderful professional singer in Europe. Besides singing in opera houses and "fests", she toured singing a Jenny Lind recital to rave reviews. Anyone interested in hearing Betsy's singing can go to a website she established: We are thankful that our alumni keep us posted about their singing engagements. There are so many of these that rather than innumerate them, and possibly leave someone out, I have only included those singers who gaining national or international notice.
NOW, it is with a great sadness that we announce another sadness. This summer we will not be holding our usual workshop in Boston because of the increased rent possible venues have requested. We have limited resources and funding which inhibit our opportunities. We are hopeful that some way can be found to revive our Boston connection next summer. We will, however, hold two Washington workshops this coming summer and hope some of our Boston friends can join us there. We all feel blessed to work with such talented and eager singers. Buona Fortuna a tutti!

Left: Director Richard Crittenden and Associate Director Elizabeth Vrenios giving a much needed back rub to coach Thomas Hetrick during a marathon dress rehearsal. Washington, 2004