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‘Werther’ concludes Vashon Opera’s fifth season
The Vashon Opera turned five last fall, and according to its founder and artistic director Jennifer Krikawa, it’s full steam ahead for the thriving nonprofit.
With four upcoming operas and an upcoming gala piled high on her plate, Krikawa and her baritone husband Andy plus a legion of dedicated volunteers are putting the final touches on their 12th production, the opera “Werther.”
Goethe first published “The Sorrows of Young Werther” in 1774 at the height of the emotionally expressive Strum and Drang movement in German literature and music. Just over 100 years later, the French composer Jules Massenet turned the story into a deeply romantic opera.
The score tells the story of Werther, a sensitive young artist in love with Charlotte ,who is duty-bound to fulfill her dying mother’s wish to marry another man. In hopeless desperation, Werther ends this impossible love with his death. If love, in all its permutations, is a predominent theme in operas, then “Werther” could well be its poster child.
Singing this poignant tale to life — in French with English supertitles — is a stellar cast of professionals hailing from cities across the country, including Northwest tenor Wesley Rogers, who stars as Werther. The San Francisco Classical Voice called out Rogers as possessing the “kind of tenor that pours forth powerfully, effortlessy, seemingly for any length of time.”
At the start of each opera season, Krikawa and music director Jim Brown audition singers at Pacific Lutheran University, where Brown teaches. During one long day, they audition a new performer every 10 minutes. And the result?
“Well, the (principals) just blew us away,” said Krikawa, who also finds perfect voices for various parts right here on Vashon. Gary Koch, a frequent tenor soloist with Vashon Island Chorale, will sing the role of Brühlmann, along with a chorus of six island youth.
Susan Hedrick, another island singer and Krikawa’s right-hand person as volunteer coordinator and production manager, believes many of Vashon’s amateur singers find performing in the chorus both exciting and meaningful.
“Sometimes there are 65 of us on stage, and we get to sing next to these incredibly gifted professionals,” she said. “It is very fulfilling.”
Whether fulfilling or entertaining, volunteering for the Vashon Opera is clearly a labor of love. Dressed in a black T-shirt with Vashon Opera emblazoned across the front, Krikawa, age 43, seemed both pleased and amused to reveal that while the nonprofit pays the artists, orchestra and an occasional costume designer, there is no paid staff.
“We may have 90 volunteers for one opera, but nobody is paid,” Krikawa said.
With its mission to enrich the community through the creation of opera in intimate settings, Vashon Opera overcomes a lot of challenges in mounting its productions, including two less than adequate venues. Regardless, the performances make quite an impact on their audiences.
“One well-known community member cried so hard during ‘Madama Butterfly’ that he lost his contact lens and had to return to Bethel church to find it,” laughed Hedrick. “Another couple said the opera saved their marriage. People talk to me for weeks after a show about various messages of love or faith, the triumph of good over evil.”
Krikawa attributes the power of the opera to the extraordinary expressions and intricacies of the human voice.
“The singers are expressing themselves with body and soul,” Krikawa said. “They have thought out their delivery and made themselves vulnerable. If you are open to that, to the subtleties, they can really affect you.”