Live opera is coming to Traverse City (finally).
“Opera is for everyone,” says Kathleen Shelton.
“We want to demolish the idea that opera is intimidating,” adds Lindsey Anderson.
So the two decided to do just that. Anderson (pictured, left) is executive director and founder of Traverse City Opera, while Shelton (pictured, right) is artistic director and co-founder. They back up their lyrics by featuring a variety of opera singers and songs when live opera comes to Traverse City on April 1 with the debut of Traverse City Opera at Kirkbride Hall.
“Found in Translation: A Dramatic Opera Experience,” will be the first performance from the organization which officially formed in February 2020 – just before the pandemic shut everything down. “We launched at an unfortunate time,” admits Anderson somewhat understatedly.
So, rather than its planned grand debut, directors focused on ensuring the company was structurally and financially sound. The two are joined in the organization by Hanna Brammer in donor relations and Scott Skiba as artistic advisor. Anderson says they are developing a roster of volunteers both to work with the organization and to serve as a chorus for future productions.
Anderson and Shelton, both opera singers themselves, met while performing with Sarasota Opera in 2016. They bonded over their love of the art form and their shared sense of business. “We’re friends, but we also have business acumen,” Anderson says.
“We want to bring (opera) to people through full productions and concerts,” she says.
The two were planning a grand opening event when everything shut down. “We wanted to launch with an extravagance. There was so much momentum,” Shelton says.
The new plan might be stripped down, but the duo say it will reveal another side to the opera. “We are ready to launch in a different way. It will be on a smaller scale in an intimate environment,” says Anderson.
The concert will include both songs and actors showcasing the music and the stories told by the songs. The guest artists for the performance will be guest artists Jonathan Kaufman, tenor, Amal El-Shrafi, mezzo-soprano, and Dan Ewart, baritone; Laura Osgood Brown, soprano, voice and opera teacher at the Interlochen Center for the Arts; and Susan Snyder, collaborating pianist at the Interlochen Center for the Arts.
Sara Hartley, another local performing artist, will adapt opera translations for English performance and will also be one of the performers in the concert. “It’s a mixture of our colleagues and artists that we discover”, explains Anderson.
And yes, Anderson and Shelton will also perform, each singing a tune, and possibly a duet as well.
They drew up their plan for Traverse City Opera after Anderson returned to her hometown of Traverse City, where she works as an assistant director of admissions in Interlochen. “Lindsey had completed her second master’s degree. She was working in Interlochen and called me with the idea,” Shelton says.
Shelton, who is based in New York, says she and Anderson spoke with other local arts organizations and were encouraged by what they heard from them, as well as their own observations. “Traverse City is so ripe for this opportunity. He has a heart for the arts,” Shelton says.
She salutes the region’s support of various artistic activities, from the symphony to theatres, theater companies, galleries, various dance companies and venues such as the City Opera House and Interlochen. She also commends the various arts organizations and entities for leading the way. “I’m from a small town in Texas, and there’s nothing like it there. That’s why Traverse City excites me,” says Shelton.
She believes that factual opera combining voice, instrumental music, acting and storytelling in dramatic or comic forms – sometimes both together – sets it apart. “Opera is the Olympiad of music. It’s all the arts coming together,” Shelton says.
The two say their future plans include everything from small showcases like this to full opera productions. “Artistically, there are no limits to what we can do. We have relationships in place. Gigs like this will never be redundant,” Anderson says. “There is so much music to offer the community.
“Our long-term plan is to offer full-scale productions with costumes, lights and a full orchestra. Right now, funding is the biggest hurdle,” she says.
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. concert are $20 and are available on MyNorth Tickets. Users will be required to wear masks.