Arts and Entertainment

Homegrown opera company takes root on Vashon

Jennifer and Andy Krikawa - Courtesy photo
Jennifer and Andy Krikawa
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Island music lovers are buzzing about the announcement that a new opera company is about to bloom on Vashon, with productions of Puccini’s “La Bohème” scheduled for September and Aaron Copeland’s “The Tender Land” planned for May 2010.

Vashon Opera Company is the creation of Jennifer Krikawa, a willowy soprano who is well known as a soloist for Vashon Island Chorale, a cantor at St. John Vianney Catholic Church and the star of two memorable opera productions — “The Magic Flute” and “An Evening of American Opera” — produced on the Island in the past two years.

She’ll serve as Vashon Opera’s president and artistic director, working closely with her husband Andrew, a baritone who will sing with the company and serve on its board of directors.

Krikawa, 38, said the company will be “Island-sized,” with “La Bohème” staged at Vashon High School and “The Tender Land” presented at Bethel Evangelical Church.

“Our company will bring to life the same emotions as do the grand opera theater, but even more so,” she said in a recent article in Island Arts. “With small, intimate staging you experience the full, emotional impact of the singers and their voices.”

A number of singers have already signed on for the first two operas, including Islanders Evan Stultz and Elizabeth Ripley, as well as Northwest notables Karl Reyes, Michael Dunlap, Jonathan Silvia, David Stutz, Cliff Watson,Wesley Rogers and Gary Cannon.

The performers will bring a long list of credits to their work with Vashon Opera, having performed with Seattle Opera, Tacoma Opera, Bellevue Opera, Skagit Opera, Lyric Opera Norhtwest and The Gilbert & Sullivan Society.

Krikawa also plans to collaborate with the full range of Vashon’s arts community.

“Opera can include so many other art forms, including visual arts, dance and even acrobatics,” she said. “My hope is to provide not only singers with opportunities, but also collaborate with Island artists from other disciplines as well.”

The company will also provide opportunities for Island children. A youth chorus, directed by Marita Ericksen, will sing in “La Bohème,” and next February, the company is planning to present a single performance of a children’s opera, Barab’s “Little Red Riding Hood,” at Vashon High School.

Krikawa and the board of Vashon Opera are currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign, hoping to get the company off to a good start. Acknowledging tough economic times, the company will keep ticket prices reasonable — $20 general admission, with discounts for students and seniors.

It’s a heady time for Krikawa, who is excited to resume her career as an opera singer after a hiatus of several years.

When she moved from New York to Vashon in 2005, she gave away 15 concert gowns and tossed out most of her glossy head shots, saving only one to keep a memory of the life she was leaving behind.

The soprano was giving up a promising career as an opera singer, after having soloed at Carnegie Hall and sung with opera companies, including New York City Opera, Virginia Opera and Connecticut Opera.

She was making room for new memories as a new mother to two children, Sophia and Liam, born 15 months apart.

Her husband Andrew was also giving up the busy life of a traveling opera singer; his career highlights include the role of Albert in Pittsburgh Opera’s “Werther” and performances of “Cosí fan tutte” with the world-renowned Orchestra of St. Luke’s.

The couple and their two tiny children came to Vashon because family members lived in nearby communities, but Jennifer recalled that they arrived on the Island with “no car, no job and two babies.”

Eventually, Andrew found work at a West Seattle marketing firm, and although the two singers were quickly courted by the local music community, they both thought the curtain had fallen on their lives as opera singers.

“The lifestyle of being regional opera singers wasn’t going to work anymore,” Jennifer said. “We just couldn’t imagine under what circumstances we could be singing and taking care of our children at the same time.”

Now, with Vashon Opera Company, the Krikawas have found a way to do just that.

“We get to tuck in our kids every night and have the chance to work with other opera singers and musicians,” she said. “I’m thrilled.”

Vashon Opera seeks angels

Vashon Opera, a nonprofit organization, will host a founder’s party on May 16 at the home of Jaculin and Brian Dougher. Five professional singers, including Andrew and Jennifer Krikawa, will perform a preview of the upcoming season with ensembles and arias from “La Bohème” and “The Tender Land.”

A donation of $500 per person is requested to become an opera founder. For tickets, call Jennifer Krikawa at (206) 388-2926.

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