Springfield Regional Opera celebrates 35 years of opera in southwest Missouri with a gala concert Saturday October 3rd at 7:30pm in Drury University Clara Thompson Hall. They'll collaborate with the Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra, whose Music Director Christopher Koch is also SRO's new Music Director. SRO also has a new Artistic Director in place as well. He's an alum of the opera company who's gone on to an international career as a tenor performing some of the most difficult and treacherous music in the repertoire: the (often) extremely high-lying, and (just as often) highly florid opera of Rossini, Donizetti and Meyerbeer. He's Michael Spyres, and he's from Mansfield, Missouri originally. When he and Christopher Koch were in our studio I playfully asked Michael what qualifications he possesses to take on this new and equally difficult role: artistic administrator of an opera company that, frankly, has had its share of problems in recent years.
Michael laughed and said, "Good question! I have none! No, actually, over the past dozen years I've been living primarily in Europe, and when I do come back I'm always checking into the (local) arts scene. And it's only been three to four months per year than I can be back, so I haven't been involved in the arts at all. When the opera company had its problems last year, I realized that this is my time to step up and help the community that helped me so much--because I was born and bred here. I went to MSU, and I started (my opera career) with SRO. They're the ones that got me to the position that I'm in today... I would not be here had it not been for the Springfield Regional Opera, and I thought this would be a fantastic way to bring in some of my friends and colleagues from around the world, to come in and create something amazing.
"We have an incredible community here in Springfield, and there haven't really been a whole lot of directional ideas as far as how we want to grow the Opera, and we've struggled the past couple of years. I really think that with a new direction, and also with Christopher here, we've got some things in the store in the next couple of years that I think are going to make people really proud that we have the Opera that we've had here 35 years. But it's been waning a little bit in public opinion as far as its importance. But we're back--and with a vengeance, I believe."
Of course, with an opera and concert career that regularly sees him perform leading roles in the opera houses of Vienna, London, Milan, Dresden and Berlin, Spyres is still "on the road" seven to eight months a year. But he intends to make the four months or so per year that he can be in Springfield count for plenty.
Christopher Koch brings both musical and administrative expertise to the job of SRO Music Director, thanks to his leadership of the Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra. He told us the Music Director of an opera company "typically handles the formation of the orchestra, the coordination of the forces and the music, and then of course coordinating the rehearsal (schedule) and making sure that everything's in place." Oh, yeah, and he'll probably conduct most if not all of SRO's performances! Koch also announced for the first time on KSMU that Springfield Regional Opera has an all-new orchestra this season, comprised of principal players from the Springfield Symphony and the Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestras, as well as players brought in from outside the area.
Of course, orchestra-pit size restrictions at venues like the Gillioz Theatre will naturally restrict the size of the orchestras for opera productions to plus-or-minus 20 players. Luckily, for the season-opening gala on October 3rd, the orchestra will be seated on the stage of Clara Thompson Hall, and thus can accommodate a much larger number of players.
Vocally, there will be 13 soloists participating in the Gala, including Michael Spyres himself and a range of current and former SRO performers. As Spyres pointed out, the cast list is "basically the heads of vocal departments from every major university here" (and elsewhere: tenor Steven Tharp, a Springfield native with an international opera and recital career spanning three decades, and now on the voice faculty of University of Missouri-Columbia, will also perform at the Gala). Sypres added, "We have amazing talent here in Springfield, and the heads of our vocal-music departments and the voice teachers--we have world-class singers that are living right here in Springfield that haven't had the chance to show their stuff. So a lot of people that have been with the (SRO) company throughout the years, it's just going to be fantastic to have them all on one stage."
Added Music Director Christopher Koch, "And it's all collaborative. That's something that we as an organization, it's our mission. Springfield is fortunate to have such a rich musical community, and one of the reasons that is true is that we do work together very well. It's a mission shared by the (Springfield) Symphony and the other organizations."
Michael Spyres tries to spread the gospel of Springfield's artistic community wherever he travels. "A town this size, I don't think there are any other ones that two different symphony orchestras, we have a ballet, we have an opera company, we have thirteen theater companies. And we all have to work together. And it's a testament to what we are as a community that we can do this. There's no other community that I'm aware of that's our size, that has this much going on in the arts."
The gala Springfield Regional Opera concert on October 3rd will be video-recorded for eventual DVD release, and they were hoping to have the concert broadcast online on either YouTube or Facebook, whether live or on a delay. "We want people to able to see this digitally," said Spyres.
The new SRO regime's first fully-staged production next spring will be Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) at the Gillioz Theatre around the first of April 2016.