Singers across the US harmonize in 8-hour Aria-thon with Opera Steamboat |

Singers across the US harmonize in 8-hour Aria-thon with Opera Steamboat

Editor’s note: Since this article was published, the Aria-thon line-up has been slightly adjusted. The article has been edited to reflect the up-to-date list of performers.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When the time came for Opera Steamboat to postpone its 2020 summer festival due to COVID-19, the organization was keenly aware that this schedule change meant a lapse in income for the singers and staff. 

To make up a bit of the difference, Opera Steamboat paid a portion of the contracts to those who’d committed to work the summer’s performances, but “the organization wanted to go further to help,” said Opera Steamboat Artistic Director Andres Cladera. “We felt it was necessary.”

And so Opera Steamboat joined the ranks of organizations across the world improvising their ways through new concepts in virtual fundraising. The first-ever Aria-thon, an eight-hour livestream of opera, is set for Saturday, June 13 from noon to 8 p.m. Twenty-four artists who’d been on the Opera Steamboat summer 2020 schedule will be performing arias for approximately 20 minutes each, and 100% of the proceeds raised will be split among them.

Cladera will be the Aria-thon’s host, and will kick off the event with a performance alongside Ben Gulley, who Opera Steamboat audiences will remember from his role as Prince in “Rusalka.”

The performers will be joining in from across the U.S. Some have been part of Opera Steamboat productions in the past, while others had been scheduled for their debuts this summer. 

Armando Contreras from Windsor is one of those set to perform. 

“(Economic effects of the pandemic) have hit the opera community pretty bad, unfortunately,” Contreras said, noting factors making live opera especially unsafe during coronavirus including the design of live audience members sitting within a foot of one another, the demographics of opera fans generally being older and more at-risk, and the risk of transmission rooted in the act of singing. 

“But there have been glimmers of hope — there are many great groups helping artists,” he said. “This Aria-thon is incredible.”

Armando Contreras

Contreras will be performing three arias and a zarzuela, ranging from Italian to Spanish to English. 

“I wanted to contrast languages and styles, so everybody can get a taste of everything,” he said.

Nnamdi Nwankwo will sing his three pieces from Broomfield. Those include the classic “Count’s Aria,” the comedic “I’m Glad I’m Not a Tenor” by Ben Moore; and the spiritual “Deep River.”

“(The Aria-thon) is a testament of how adaptive the arts are. We sit down, we grieve for a minute, then we figure out what to do next: turn to digital resources,” Nwankwo said. “Why use (digital resources) when you have the stage? But now we’re in a position where we’re kind of forced to use it.” 

If you go

What: Opera Steamboat’s Aria-thon
When: Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 13
Where: Youtube Live and Facebook Live
Cost: Free; contributions welcome
More info: Visit

With the industry propelled into a virtual space, Nwankwo notes the sense of unity of a single performance heard by strangers living across the country from each other.

“The arts have the power to bring all of us together,” he said.

He also notes the importance of representation in the arts, and hopes that virtual performances will be helpful in this.

Nnamdi Nwankwo

“I’m a student of color, and seeing other singers who looked like me is what pulled me into (singing),” Nwankwo said.

Christopher Humbert Jr. will be tuning in for his performance from Columbus, Ohio.

“(During the pandemic,) I’ve seen more artists coming together, from all different generations, programs and experience levels,” he said. “Even though we’re spread out, it still feels like we’re finding ways to commune and sing together, and that’s really beautiful.”

Cladera said he’s excited to see how this virtual format allows the voice of the local organization to reach anyone, anywhere, without the confines of a singular physical space.

“This event expands our audience to, potentially, all over the world,” Cladera said. 

Humbert is optimistic that virtual performance will be a helpful tool in alignment with his personal musical mission.

“I always want to bring music to people who might not have had the chance to be in the audience of a show before, who’ve never experienced it or been able to afford to experience it,” he said. “That’s really a dream of mine: to continue to build this community with such advanced art, and continue to make ways to share it with more people, with our own communities and throughout the world.” 

Christopher Humbert

And while the physical distance between performers and audience members will be greater in virtual opera than in-person opera, Humbert points out that virtual opera offers a different kind of closeness and vulnerability for artists.

“Without costumes and lighting, the whole experience is kind of stripped down and you’re left with this person and whatever experience or aura they’re presenting,” he said. “Having to do that through a camera is almost more skill — you really are just expressing who you are through this song and trying to get an emotion out of it.”

“This way, you really do get to see who each and every one of us are,” Humbert said. “It’s cool. Scary, but cool.”

Some pieces will be performed in real time from performers’ homes, with piano accompaniment, but most will be participating through videos that have been recorded during the past week or so. Cladera notes that the real-time performances will have pre-recorded tracks as back-up in case of any internet failure, so the whole eight hours will be accounted for. 

In addition to Cladera, Gulley, Contreras, Nwankwo and Humbert, other performers who will be participating in the Aria-thon include the following:

The Aria-thon will be streamed on Youtube Live and Facebook Live. Tuning into the performances will be free, but those who wish to donate may do so at

“I hope (the Aria-thon) is an escape from being at home — an opportunity for people to find excitement,” Contreras said. 

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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