The Importance of Regional Opera
by Dr. Todd Queen
It seems ironic that I am writing an article about opera in America as I sit in an internet café in Orvieto, Italy! I have had the good fortune of spending many of my summers in Italy, and while the food and culture of Italy is world class, summers away from home give me a chance to contemplate all of the wonderful singing opportunities that we have in America.
I am a firm believer that America offers the best vocal training in the world. Students have access to top-notch teachers and coaches, a plethora of university programs to choose from, and a host of opera companies that offer performing experiences to a wide range of singers. Today, it is the perspective of the regional opera company that I would like to share.
I took over as Artistic Director of Opera Fort Collins in 2005. Founder Elizabeth Elliott had run a successful local opera company for 25 years, and had put her faith in me to continue the legacy. It was a daunting task to run an opera company in a town of 120,000 people with a small group of staunch supporters and an even smaller budget. But, once committed, we decided to run. Alongside Music Director Wes Kenney, we put a strategic plan together to increase the scope of the opera company so that it could truly become a regional opera house for Northern Colorado.
So how would we go about executing this grand plan? Well, we knew we had a few things going for us. First, we had a major university in our town that we both just happened to be affiliated with. It was a natural fit, and so in conjunction with Colorado State University, we started the Opera Fort Collins Apprentice Artist Program. Students can earn a Master of Music in Vocal Performance at CSU while gaining valuable singing experience with OFC, performing in the Educational Outreach program and singing comprimario roles with the company. Second, I had been in Colorado long enough to know that the state was full of really talented singers. One of the goals of OFC always has been to provide opportunities for local talent. We have done so in every show, and have not been disappointed. Finally, I reached out to many of my friends in the business. We have been blessed to have the likes of Charles Edwin Taylor, Cynthia Lawrence, Mark Walters, and many other amazing singers with national and international careers sing with our company. The end result is that our productions are known for their high caliber of singing, musicianship and acting.
Our other major change was to expand the season from one production per year to three. We wanted to be sure that the name Opera Fort Collins was being seen and heard year round. We made it our goal to never again hear “I didn’t know we had an opera company in Fort Collins?!” (We’re still working on that one!). Because budgets were tight, we decided to add a aria gala and a concert opera to the season instead of fully staged productions. Since then, we have been able to mount some of opera’s most beloved works, which include Aida, Turandot, Il Trovatore, and Der fliegende Holländer!
The work still continues to raise the stature (and budget) of our company. But I believe that regional opera houses play a central role in the development of opera in America. They provide performing venues for the stars of tomorrow, and they provide a rich cultural experience for communities that they serve. I hope you will support your local opera company!
Dr. Todd Queen, Associate Professor of Voice, is Chair of the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance in the College of Liberal Arts at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. Todd Queen became Opera Fort Collins Artistic Director in 2004, chosen as successor by OFC Founder Elizabeth Elliott. His experience as an operatic tenor has led to numerous credits as an opera stage director. Queen has recently cultivated those experiences in a new direction, that of arts administrator and international arts ambassador. In 2009 Queen traveled to Asia with CSU leaders to forge a partnership with East China Normal University in Shanghai, where he was named Visiting Professor. He plans a similar partnership at Hansel University in Korea in 2010. In addition, in summer 2011 he will serve as Artistic and Stage Director of Opera Orvieto, a three-week intensive Italian musical experience. Queen previously served on faculty with Operafestival di Roma, where he taught voice and directed the Opera Workshop program. Dr. Queen’s voice students have been selected for prestigious young artist programs in the US and abroad, including Central City Opera Apprentice Program, AIMS in Austria, and Operafestival di Roma. Former students are currently attending top tier conservatories and graduate schools, including Eastman and Indiana University, and have placed in the district and regional finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.
Todd Queen joined the CSU voice faculty in 2001 as Assistant Professor of Voice and Director of Colorado State Opera. He previously taught at North Dakota State University, Alfred University, and Syracuse University. Dr. Queen earned the DMA and MM degrees from the prestigious Eastman School of Music after completing his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University in Utah. He is a member of College Music Society, National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and a former NATS Intern, chosen as one of 12 young teachers from the US and Canada to work with renowned master teachers in an 10-day intensive seminar. Queen is regularly invited as a guest judge and panelist for the Classical Singer Convention, most recently in Chicago and Brooklyn NY. Todd Queen’s credits as opera director include Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, and Le Nozze di Figaro, a double bill of Cavellaria Rusticana and Pagliacci, Verdi’s Falstaff, Puccini’s La Bohème, Lehár’s The Merry Widow, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, Copland’s The Tender Land, Britten’s Albert Herring, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and Pirates of Penzance.
Todd Queen continues an active performing career that includes faculty and guest recitals, master classes, and solo engagements with national and regional opera companies, orchestras, choruses, and concert series. His operatic roles include Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, Don Basilio in Le Nozze di Figaro, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, the title role Candide, Fenton in Falstaff, Steuermann in Der fliegende Holländer , Male Chorus in Rape of Lucretia, Borsa in Rigoletto, El Remendado in Carmen, and St. Brioche in Merry Widow. He has sung with Sacramento Opera, Operafestival di Roma, Opera Fort Collins, Fargo-Moorhead Opera, Lyric Artists of the West, Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra, the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestral engagements include tenor soloist in Carmina Burana with Cheyenne Symphony and tenor soloist in Messiah with Larimer Chorale. His oratorio roles include Lucas in Haydn’s The Seasons, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, the Evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion, Uriel in Haydn’s Creation, Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven Symphony #9, and Bach’s Magnificat. He has been a guest soloist with The Larimer Chorale, Colorado Repertory Singers, Utah Valley Chorus and Orchestra, Southwest Symphony and Chorus, Alpine Chorale, Longmont Symphony and Chorale, Cheyenne Symphony, Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, and the Rochester Oratorio Society.