The last time the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre presented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni, a traditional undergraduate student today was in elementary school.
That October 2001 production stands out in the long line of UK Opera presentations for several reasons.
It ushered in an era of high-profile collaborators for the program, with legendary baritone Sherrill Milnes coming in to work with the students, particularly the baritones portraying Giovanni and his sidekick, Leporello.
The singer playing Leporello, Corey Crider, made an almost immediate splash by advancing to the national semifinals of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions on the strength of his animated rendition of Giovanni's "Catalog Aria." He was the first UK singer since Gregory Turay in 1995 to get to the national rounds of the competition.
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Preparations for the show were documented in Impresario, a film about UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey and his multifaceted pursuits. It was made by then-Lexington filmmakers Eren McGinnis and Ari Palos, who themselves have gone on to national notice.
It was a lush, grand opera production that helped establish UK's troupe as Lexington's de facto opera company.
"That production was one of our best productions to that date," McCorvey says. "What made it exciting for us was the quality of the singing and the quality of the orchestra. Both were outstanding. We all knew that the performers in that production were destined for successful careers."
Indeed, 12 years later, a quick survey of that production's stars shows a group of people who have achieved success in a variety of levels and ways.
The highest-profile and most unusual by opera standards is Reshma Shetty, the soprano who sang Zerlina, a young bride whom Don Giovanni attempts to seduce. She went on to star in the USA Network television drama series Royal Pains as Divya Katdare, part of the concierge medical practice in New York's ritzy Hamptons area. The show's sixth season starts this summer.
Mark Huseth played the title role and went on to become one of five UK graduates singing with the U.S. Soldiers Chorus. He has performed principal roles with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Utah Opera, Opera Omaha, and Shreveport (La.) Opera, and he has been a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Utah Orchestra.
Cory Crider has performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago; Sarasota (Fla.) Opera; Opera Lyra in Ottawa, Ontario; the Cincinnati Opera Concert Series; Indianapolis Opera; and companies in Spain, Beijing and Italy.
Europe can be an awfully good place for opera singers to land, and two veterans of UK's first Giovanni enjoy successful careers there.
Soprano Patricia Andress, who shared the role of Zerlina with Shetty, is principal artist at the Theater Bremen in Germany and has sung leading roles in Tosca, Madame Butterfly, The Magic Flute, La Traviata and Idomeneo. Norman Reinhardt, who sang Don Ottavio, has been principal artist with Leipzig Opera in Germany since 2009. He also has sung with the Houston and San Francisco operas and Opera Colorado. His debut San Francisco Opera season in 2012 and '13 included singing Tamino in The Magic Flute.
In addition to stage careers, several in the cast went on to academic posts.
Jennifer Coleman, who sang Donna Elvira, is a tenured professor of voice at Nashville's Belmont University and has performed with the Nashville Opera and the now-defunct New York City Opera. Edward White, Masetto, is head of the department of music and humanities at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
Hope Koehler, Donna Anna, followed in McCorvey's footsteps, becoming the head of the voice department at West Virginia University. Keeping to her Lexington ties, she also has become a distinguished interpreter of the music of John Jacob Niles, having released Lost Melodies, an album of Niles' music. She, like Keith Dean, who sang the imposing Il Commendatore, also perform regularly with McCorvey's American Spiritual Ensemble, which just finished a European tour.
"It just emphasizes again the quality of the teaching going on at the University of Kentucky," McCorvey says of the graduates' success. "It is a team effort to get the students to this level and ready for the performing business."