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The soul of genius

Emerald City Opera celebrates Mozart's birth

Oziel Garza-Ornelas with Audrey Luna in a scene from Emerald City Opera's production of "Letters for Mozart: Life and Love Through his Operas," which shows tonight and Sunday afternoon at the Steamboat Springs High School auditorium.
Courtesy Photo

A male opera singer’s voice does not mature until he is in his 30s.

“It takes even longer for lower men’s voices,” opera singer Derrick Ballard said.

“You don’t get lead roles until then, so you learn to watch, ” opera singer Jason Baldwin added. “I didn’t even listen to an opera from start to finish until I finished college.”



After Baldwin saw the opera “Faust,” he knew he wanted to pursue a career as an opera singer, despite its challenges.

“It’s basically a freelance job in the arts,” Baldwin said.



“It’s also a challenge to have people, family and friends who don’t know opera asking you why you don’t get a real job,” Ballard added.

Ballard didn’t give up on his dream, and the rewards that come with the career of an opera singer.

“I enjoy the traveling. I get to do a lot and see a lot that I would not normally see,” he said. “I meet interesting people and sing some of the best music ever written. It sounds so simple, in a way.”

One of the difficult parts of the job is singing in multiple languages. “Letters for Mozart: Life and Love through his Operas” will feature pieces in Italian, German and Latin.

“Most singers have a working knowledge of two to three (languages) and can sing in five or six, typically,” Ballard said.

“It’s helpful to know what you are singing,” Baldwin added. “I do a lot of research so I know what I am singing and can react appropriately when I act.”

Keri Rusthoi, artistic director for Emerald City Opera, thinks being an opera singer is the hardest job in the world.

“You have to be a totally terrific musician, technician and be perfect in languages. And you have to do stage movements at the same time of doing all these other things perfectly,” she said. “It’s a ridiculous amazing feat to be an opera singer and be good at it.”

“Letters for Mozart” is an original compilation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s greatest hits from seven of his dramatic pieces.

“The definition of his greatness is when the music speaks to your own human experience and lifts you above it,” Rusthoi said. “The music is totally divine. You can’t listen to Mozart and not be moved.”

The opera is focused on Mozart because 2006 is the 250th anniversary of his birth.

The operatic hits are told through the eyes of Mozart’s sister-in-law, Aloysia Weber Lange, in letters from his father.

The opera starts chronologically at the beginning of Mozart’s work and ends with a piece from his last opera.

“The musical revolution is just so amazing. What would he have created if he lived past 35?” Rusthoi asked. “And here we are 250 years later celebrating Mozart when the entire world is celebrating Mozart.”

Rusthoi has recruited opera singers from The Metropolitan Opera, Berlin Staatsoper and Cairo Opera. She enlisted musicians from the St. Louis Symphony, Colorado Symphony and The Metropolitan Opera orchestras.

“Ninety-five percent of the chorus is returning, and I just have to brag about them,” Rusthoi said. “They are a local volunteer chorus that can handle whatever I tell them to do. Most of them have never even gone to an opera, and I’m making them sing in all the different languages.”

Rusthoi said the inspiration for the compilation came from Mozart’s own definition of genius.

“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination, nor both together, go into the making of genius,” Rusthoi quoted. “Love, love, love — that is the soul of genius.”


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