Opera comes to Bend

OperaBend, U of O pair to perform scenes

By David Jasper / The Bulletin

If you go

What: University of Oregon Opera Ensemble and OperaBend Ensemble in “Love: The Bitter and The Sweet”

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Central Oregon Community College, Pinckney Center for the Arts, 2600 N.W. College Way, Bend

Cost: $7 at the door or in advance at www.operabend.org

Contact: www.operabend.org or 541-383-7510

When it comes to the opera, there’s always more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye, said Nancy Engebretson of OperaBend. Engebretson, a soprano, and her husband and fellow opera singer, Jason Stein, tenor, are the cofounders of the Bend-based nonprofit arts education organization.

Sometimes, what goes on behind the scenes is almost as entertaining and uplifting as songs being sung on the stage.

That point has been driven home for Engebretson as she, Stein and the more than a dozen students in Scenes Production of Musical Theatre and Opera — a Central Oregon Community College program held in conjunction with OperaBend — have been in rehearsals for Saturday’s opera showcase “Love: the Bitter and the Sweet” (see “If you go”).

The program is a collaboration with University of Oregon Opera Ensemble and features pieces from a selection of beloved operas.

“I guess I always knew this, sort of, but it never became as clear to me (until) this particular group, that it’s not just what you see at the performance, it’s all the wonderful stuff that goes on behind the scenes, while we’re getting there,” Engebretson said. “It’s very enjoyable to notice it.”

One student has chronic pain and feels he has his life back, thanks to this singing opportunity, according to Engebretson. Another is a mother of six who makes the drive from Prineville for rehearsals. One woman, Cristine Keever, of Madras, sang opera in the past. She learned of the class through an audition call Engebretson put on Craigslist on a whim.

“She saw us and next thing you know, she’s singing with us. And she’s really a beautiful singer, beautiful person,” Engebretson said.

Debbie Leonard was a theater major who worked retail for 18 years and is now back in school working on an accounting degree. “She’s just loving being back in theater and music and performing again,” Engebretson said. She’s also helping Engebretson behind the scenes.

“It’s the perfect marriage. Someone comes along right when you need them, and you have something that they like and so it’s been … like alchemy with this group,” Engebretson said.

Five of the student singers hail from Redmond. Two of those are young men from Redmond High School with “nice, raw potential, and we’re seeing it come forth. It’s very exciting,” Engebretson said.

On the program for the OperaBend portion of Saturday’s performance are pieces from two Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart works, “The Magic Flute” and “Cosi fan tutte,” as well as Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow,” Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Expect a few numbers from musicals as well.

The UO Opera Ensemble, directed by Karen Esquivel, will offer scenes from Jacques Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffman” and Igor Stravinsky’s “Rake’s Progress.”

It’s a busy couple of weeks for OperaBend. On June 6, the company hosts “An Evening with David Malis.” A baritone with Metropolitan Opera of New York, he’ll be joined by the OperaBend Chorus and lead an opera master class while in town.

Said Engebretson, “It just feels so — I hate to be woo-woo — but so synchronous in how it all came together and what a great time we’re having. Everyone’s getting so much more than performing experience out of it.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0349, djasper@bendbulletin.com