First Colorado Puppet Opera Festival presents world premiere

Boulder Opera part of collaboration presenting Colorado Sky in Broomfield and Boulder

By Peter Alexander May 31 at 2:00 p.m.

It’s one of those “only in Boulder” things.

The re-introduction of wolves in Colorado, advanced by the narrow passage of Proposition 114 in 2020, led to the composition of an opera. Not just an opera, though: a puppet opera about wolves for families with children ages three and up.

The world premiere production of the new work, Colorado Sky, will be presented Saturday at the Broomfield Auditorium in Broomfield and Sunday at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder as part of what is billed as “the first Colorado Puppet Opera Festival” (June 3 and 4; details below). The music for Colorado Sky was composed by recent CU grad Ben Morris to a libretto by playwright Laura Fuentes.

The story of the opera is about Sky, a re-introduced wolf cub who must make new friends and adapt to his new home. It is presented through shadow puppetry and brought to musical life by three singers, Claire MaCahan, Brandon Tyler Padgett and Sabina Balsamo. The performance will accompanied by the Lirios Strung Quartet, the current string quartet in residence at the CU College of Music.

Conductor Nicholas Carthy, opera music director at CU, wrote about Colorado Sky, “It encompasses everything that opera and modern music need to be. It’s tuneful, it’s accessible, the words are wonderful, the story’s great.”

The opera is 35 minutes in length. Following each performance there will be a 30-minute puppet-making workshop. The production is presented by Art Song Colorado, working in collaboration with the Sohap Ensemble, Boulder Opera, and the Broomfield Council on the Arts and Humanities.

A jazz pianist a well as composer, Ben Morris is assistant professor of composition at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. His Hill of Three Wishes was premiered by Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and conductor Cynthia Katsarelis last November. 

Librettist and playwright Laura Fuentes lives in Baltimore. She has had a commission from Washington National Opera and participated in College Light Opera Company’s New Works program, and her plays have been recognized in several new works programs and festivals.

# # # # #

Colorado Puppet Opera Festival
Art Song Colorado, in collaboration with Sohap Ensemble, Boulder Opera,
and the Broomfield Council on the Arts and Humanities
Nicholas Carthy, conductor

Ben Morris and Laura Fuentes: Colorado Sky (world premiere; puppet opera)

6 p.m. Saturday, June 3, Broomfield Auditorium, Broomfield

1 and 3 p.m. Sunday, June 4, Dairy Arts Center, Boulder

Central City Opera and union reach agreement

AGMA announces the five-year agreement; summer season opens June 24

By Peter Alexander May 21 at 10:15 p.m.

The American Guild of Musical Artist (AGMA), a union representing singers, dancers and others who perform in musical productions, has announced that they have reached an agreement with Central City Opera that will allow the pending 2023 summer season to proceed.

Opening Night at Central City Opera. Featured in Central City Opera’s 75th anniversary book, Theatre of Dreams, The Glorious Central City Opera—Celebrating 75 Years.

According to AGMA’s release, dated May 18, “The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and Central City Opera (CCO) reached a new five-year collective bargaining agreement, beginning May 19, 2023, and running through September 1, 2027.” Significantly, the release also states that “AGMA was also able to insist that the agreement cover this season, rather than starting in September.” 

This means that the current summer festival season, running from June 24 through Aug. 6, will proceed as scheduled. As of this date, CCO has not made an announcement concerning the agreement, nor have they responded to requests for comment. Information on the 2023 summer festival and access to single ticket sales may be found HERE; summer subscriptions are available HERE.

As reported earlier, CCO and AGMA have been in negotiations for a new contract since Nov. 1, 2022. The previous contract expired near the end of last season, in August 2022. Since then the company and union have traded accusations, but in the past week both sides agreed to meet with professional mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

On May 8, CCO offered a four-year contract that did not include the current summer. The next day, May 9, AGMA’s Board of Governors authorized a possible strike that would have interrupted or canceled the summer season. On May 11, the two sides held a 14-hour negotiating session with federal mediators. A week later, May 18, AGMA announced the new five-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

AGMA’s announcement quotes their national executive director, Sam Wheeler: “This was a long and challenging negotiation, but, in the end, we were able to reach an agreement that protects the welfare of artists working at CCO.” You may read the full statement from AGMA HERE.

GRACE NOTES: Boulder Piano Quartet and Boulder Symphony Friday

Brahms and Bonis at the Academy; Beethoven, Britten and Korngold downtown

By Peter Alexander May 18 at 1:10 p.m.

The Boulder Piano Quartet will perform a piece by one of the most interesting composers you’ve never heard of—Mel Bonis, aka Mélanie Hélène Bonis Domange— as part of a concert Friday at the Academy in Boulder (7 p.m. May 19; details below).

Oh, and there will be some Brahms, too—someone who is slightly better known to music lovers today.

To be specific, the program comprises Bonis’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in D major and Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor. The concert will feature performers Alex Gonzalez as guest violinist, with regular Boulder Quartet members Matthew Dane, viola; Thomas Heinrich, cello; and David Korevaar, piano. Gonzalez substitutes for the late Chas Wetherbee, a member of the quartet who died Jan. 9.

Born in 1858, Bonis was a child prodigy who taught herself to play piano. She entered the Paris Conservatory at 16, where she studied with Cesar Franck and was in the same class with Debussy. To satisfy her parents’ conservative sense of priorities she married a businessman who apparently didn’t like music, and consequently she gave up composition. Later she re-encountered a former classmate and ex-lover who was able to encourage her composition and connect her with publishers. Both her composing and her affair with the former classmate blossomed as a result.

When Saint-Saëns heard some of her music around 1901, he is supposed to have said “I never imagined a woman could write such music!” After her husband’s death in 1918, Bonis devoted herself fully to composition. The Second Piano Quartet, written in 1927, is one of her later pieces which she described as her “musical legacy.”

Brahms wrote his Piano Quartet in G minor 1856–61. It was premiered in his hometown of Hamburg in 1861 with Clara Schumann playing the piano part. Brahms himself later played it for his Vienna debut as a performer. The Quartet is best known for its finale, marked Rondo alla Zingarese, based on the Roma dance-music style that was often mistaken for Hungarian folk song. 

# # # # #

Boulder Piano Quartet

  • Mel Bonis: Piano Quartet No. 2 in D major, op. 124
  • Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, op. 25

7 p.m. Friday, May 19
Chapel Hall, The Academy University Hill

Free admission; reservations HERE

# # # # #

The Boulder Symphony and conductor Devin Patrick Hughes open their concert Friday (7:30 p.m. May 19 at Grace Commons Church) with another interesting composer, and one who should be better known, Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Music from Korngold’s score for the 1940 film starring Errol Flynn, The Sea Hawk, opens the program, which also features probably the best known symphony of all time, Beethoven’s Fifth. Between these works violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams and violist Andrew Krimm will appear as soloists for Benjamin Britten’s Double Concerto for violin and viola.

Korngold was one of many composers who came to the United States to escape the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria. Hailed as a child prodigy, the had a thriving career in Austria as a composer of operas and other major works. He moved to Hollywood in 1934, where he wrote the scores to 16 films, including several Errol Flynn adventure epics such as Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk

His concert music has recently enjoyed a revival, and Opera Colorado recently presented his 1920 opera Die tote Stadt (The dead city), written when the composer was 23. The Sea Hawk was the last of his scores for a “swashbuckler.” It is considered one of his best film scores, and it was a recording of that score and others by Korngold that sparked a revival of interest in his film music in the 1970s.

Britten’s Double Concerto ranks alongside Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante as one of a very few works for solo violin and viola. Written in 1932 when Britten was 18, it was later rejected by the composer and not performed in the composer’s lifetime. However, a copy survived in a reduced score and the rediscovered concerto was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1997.

Nothing in classical music is more recognizable than the opening gesture of Beethoven’s Fifth—three shorts and a long, the four-note motive that came to stand for “Victory’ in World War II (based on the morse code signal for V, dot dot dot dash). The piece has become so familiar that it is easy to forget how tightly it is constructed, with the four-note motive running throughout in various forms, and the thrilling transformation from C minor to C major representing a kind of musical victory of its own.

Hwang-Williams has been concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony for 20 years and recently released two CD recordings of music by Korean composer Isang Yun. Krimm came to Colorado as a member of the award-winning Altius Quartet, the former quartet-in-residence at the CU, and is currently executive director of the Boulder Symphony.

# # # # #

Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor
With Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin, and Andrew Krimm, viola

  • Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Film music from The Sea Hawk
  • Benjamin Britten: Double Concerto for violin and viola
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 19
Grace Commons Church, 1820 15th St., Boulder


MahlerFest will ‘Rise Again’ with 36th season

Film, chamber music, songs, and the massive Second Symphony May 17–21

By Peter Alexander May 16 at 11:15 p.m.

They just keep coming back.

They don’t build nests, but like the swallows to Capistrano, every May a group of musicians return to Boulder. They come here to play in the annual Colorado MahlerFest, for the 36th time this year.

Kenneth Woods with the Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra. Photo by Keith Bobo

This year’s festival, titled “Rise Again,” runs from Wednesday through Sunday, and includes events at Mountain View Methodist Church, the Boedecker Theater at the Dairy Arts Center and Macky Auditorium (May 17–21; full programs and details below).

As it has from the very first MahlerFest, this year’s event culminates in the performance of a major orchestral work: the Symphony No. 2 in C minor that features orchestra, chorus and vocal soloists (3:30 p.m. May 21 in Macky). It is the chorus of the Second Symphony that provides the festival title when they sing “Rise Again! You shall rise again!” This theme is also featured in the other work on the Sunday concert program, “Phoenix Rising” by the living Scottish composer Thea Musgrave.

Original poster for Mahler’s 1905 Lieder Concert

Preceding the Sunday performance of “Mahler and Musgrave,” there will be a free symposium titled “Authors and Editors” focusing on the featured work and other aspects of Mahler’s life (9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 20, at Mountain View Methodist, with lunch break).

A recent trend that continues in the 36th MahlerFest is the expansion of the repertoire to composers associated with, or in some way influenced by, Mahler. This development has been driven by artistic director Kenneth Woods, who took over MahlerFest from Robert Olson, the founding director, in 2015. Woods has said that his aim in expanding the repertoire is for the audience to hear more than works by Mahler and to provide context for the Mahler works that are performed.

This year’s concerts leading up to Sunday will present a symphony by Hans Gál, an Austrian composer of the generation after Mahler, and a chamber version of the first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre, which influenced the opening of the Second Symphony (7:30 p.m. Wednesday); a program of solo works (3 p.m. Thursday); a screening of Ken Russell’s loosely biographical 1974 film Mahler (7 p.m. Thursday); a chamber concert of music by Ernst Bloch and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, described in the program as “Mahler’s Musical Heirs” (7:30 p.m. Friday); and a concert recreating a program of Mahler’s song cycles that the composer conducted in Vienna in 1905 (7:30 p.m. Saturday).

Full program listings and details for each concert are given below.

But back to the swallows. One of the most notable aspects of the MahlerFest has been how many musicians develop a deep loyalty to the festival and return year after year. There is even one orchestra member—assistant principal string bass player Jennifer Motycka—who has played in every single MahlerFest, and many others play year after year.

Festival Artist Lauren Spaulding

One of these is violist Lauren Spaulding, who this year is a “Festival Artist”—performers who are chosen to lead orchestral sections or appear as soloists. “There’s something so engaging about playing Mahler with a bunch of cohorts,” she says. “Mahler demands a lot of flexibility and brings a little bit of the European musical traditions that you don’t really see these days in the States with the kinds of demands that they put on auditions— in time and in tune and correct and exactly right with the metronome.”

That flexibility and playing with like-minded musicians are key for Spaulding. She remembers a performance in 2019 of Mahler’s song cycle “Songs of a Wayfarer” as a moment of illumination. “It was beautiful, and playing it with musicians who are so flexible was a humbling experience for me. (That) opened my eyes to the fact that music is living poetry.”

She also singles out artistic director and conductor Kenneth Woods for praise. “Ken is amazing,” she says. “He’s a big reason I keep coming back. He follows what’s on the page, but man does he like make it live!”

For his part, Woods points to the ”friendly social environment within the orchestra, which I think partly comes from people who want to be here. And also just the fact that Boulder’s a fantastic place to spend a week! Everyone’s excited to get here, see the mountains, hear the music, and to see their friends.”

Woods believes that the collegial atmosphere comes partly from the Festival Artists. “We’ve chosen those people very, very carefully that they’re not just really good musicians, but that they’re great colleagues,” he says. “They’re there to inspire but also to encourage and to engage.”

Kenneth Woods

Woods and Spaulding both credit the varied repertoire for attracting musicians. “From day one I wanted to stay true to the core aspects of the festival but to really broaden the repertoire and increase the ambition,” Woods says. “For those who want to push themselves and explore new repertoire, this is a great place to do it.”

It’s definitely the expanded repertoire that brought tenor Brennen Guillory back for his second MahlerFest. He sang the tenor solos in Mahler’s Lied von der Erde (Song of the earth) in 2018, and this year he will be featured as Siegmund in the chamber performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre Act I Wednesday.

“Siegmund is a great role!” he says. “It’s one of those things I really love to sing. It’s a very rewarding piece, it’s kind of got everything.”

Like Spaulding, Guillory says that the conductor is also part of the attraction. “I’ve been working with Ken on and off for probably 20 years,” he says. “He’s a really great conductor to work with—very collaborative, very generous, patient, and he knows the music in and out.”

Finally, Woods wants you to know that the repertoire, while diverse, is more than a potpourri. The programs have been put together with a theme that runs through the festival. “I tried to program the festival so that the introduction of the human voice in (Mahler’s Second Symphony on Sunday) grows out of what we’ve heard earlier in the week. Both (Wagner’s Walküre Wednesday) and the Liederabend (Saturday) are intended to give a sense of Mahler’s roots.”

Woods details the connections between Mahler’s conducting of Wagner and his musical forms, between the Second Symphony and Walküre specifically, and between the songs he wrote and the music in his symphonies. “It’s lovely to see how vocal music informed his writing for the orchestra, and also the close relationship between song and symphony.

“That sense of Mahler the conductor and how that affects his work as a composer is always interesting to me.”

# # # # #

MahlerFest XXXVI: “Rise Again”
Main Events

“Opera and more: Wagner and Gál”
Colorado MahlerFest Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor
With Stacey Rishoi, soprano, Brennen Guillory, tenor, and Gustav Andreassen, bass

  • Hans Gál: Symphony No. 4 (U.S. premiere)
  • Wagner: Die Walküre, Act I (Arr. for chamber orchestra by Francis Griffin)

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 17
Mountain View Methodist Church

“Solo Journeys”
MahlerFest Festival Artists: Zachary DePue, violin; Parry Karp, cello; Hannah Porter Occeña, flute; Daniel Silver, clarinet; and Lauren Spaulding, viola

  • Luciano Berio: Sequenza I for flute
  • Egon Wellesz: Rhapsody for solo viola, op. 87
  • Olivier Messiaen: Abîme des oisseaux (Abyss of the Birds) from Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the end of time)
  • Max Reger: Suite in D minor for solo cello
  • Erwin Schulhoff: Sonata for solo violin

3 p.m. Thursday, May 18
Mountain View Methodist Church

Ken Russell’s Mahler
Screening of Ken Russell’s 1974 film Mahler

7 p.m. Thursday, May 18
Boedecker Theater, Dairy Arts Center

“Generation Next—Mahler’s Musical Heirs”
Zachary DePue and Caroline Chin, violin; Lauren Spaulding and Aria Cheregosha, viola; Parry Karp and Kenneth Woods, cello; and Jennifer Hayghe, piano

  • Ernst Bloch: Suite for cello and piano (trans from the Suite for viola)
  • Erich Wolfgang Korngold: String Sextet in D major, op. 10

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 19
Mountain View Methodist Church

MahlerFest XXXVI Symposium—Authors and Editors

  • Renate Stark-Voit, editor of the critical edition of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2
  • Joseph Horowitz, author of The Marriage: The Mahlers in New York
  • Kenneth Woods, MahlerFest artistic director
  • April Fredrick, soprano, opera, concert and recording artist
  • Peter Davison:, author to Wrestling with Angels

9 a.m.–4 p.m. Saturday, May 20
Mountain View Methodist Church; FREE

Mahler’s Liederabend
Recreation of Mahler’s concert in Vienna, Jan. 29, 1905
Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor
With April Fredrick, soprano; Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano; Brennen Guillory, tenor; and Gustav Andreassen, bass

  • Mahler: Selections from Das Knaben Wunderhorn (The youth’s magic horn)
  • Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the death of children)
  • Rückert-lieder (Songs after Rückert)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 20
Macky Auditorium

Stan Ruttenberg Memorial Concert: “Mahler and Musgrave”
Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor
With April Fredrick, soprano, and Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano
Boulder Concert Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director

Thea Musgrave: Phoenix Rising
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor (“Resurrection”)

3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 21
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS for individual performances or packages

You may see the full calendar of events for MahlerFest XXXVI HERE.

NOTE: Typos corrected 5/15. The correct spelling of the soprano soloist is Fredrick, not Frederick.

Central City Opera Update: “Agreement on main issues”

Negotiations with AGMA under mediation as season approaches

By Peter Alexander May 12 at 5:45 p.m.

Negotiations between Central City Opera (CCO) and the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) that started in November of last year appear to have achieved a breakthrough.

Central City Opera House. Photo by Ashraf Sewailam.

In response to the latest 14-hour negotiating session, held Thursday (May 11) and into the morning hours today, AGMA issued a public statement: ”We are pleased to report that we are in agreement with CCO on the main issues that had served as an impediment to an agreement. AGMA and CCO are meeting with federal mediators again on Monday, May 15, and anticipate finalizing contract language for a new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) at that time.”

Unlike arbitration, federal mediation is not binding. It is a way to bring a neutral third party to the table who can provide perspective and address the interests of both sides.

This latest development would seem to make moot the accusations that have been exchanged between CCO and AGMA. As such, it would seem to clear the way for the summer season to proceed as planned. Ken Cazan, a stage director with a long association with CCO who is scheduled to direct a production this summer, writes by email that “There is great hope that the season will now move forward.”

This comes only six weeks before the scheduled opening of the summer festival on June 24, and only days before rehearsals are scheduled to start on the summer productions. The opening night is slated for a performance of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. The summer’s other productions will open July 1 (Cole Porter’s Kiss me Kate) and July 15 (Rossini’s Otello). 

There appear to have been two developments this week that precipitated the sudden breaking of the logjam that had existed between CCO and AGMA since last year. First, CCO issued a statement Monday (May 8) that they “presented a complete four-year contract today to (AGMA) for signature.”

Critically, the statement also said “Should the labor union (AGMA) choose not to sign the contract . . . the two organizations will engage in federal mediation to reach resolution before the Summer Festival.” It was at that point that the negotiations could move forward with a mediator, as they did this week.

The day after CCO’s statement, AGMA did not issue a public statement, but sent a letter to all members with the news that the Board of Governors and the membership had authorized the organization’s executive director to call a strike. As noted in the letter, this does not mean that a strike has actually been called, merely that it is a step that AGMA is prepared to take. Other steps preceding a potential strike were also taken at this time. The letter also clarified some of the issues regarding the contract proposal from CCO—issues that appear to no longer be pertinent with the latest progress in negotiations.

Dates of the planned 2023 summer season, and access to ticket purchases can be found on the Central City Opera Web page.

Exploring Repertoire with Boulder Bach’s CORE

Familiar and unfamiliar composers on May 13 concert

By Peter Alexander May 11 at 3:37 p.m.

Boulder Bach Festival’s COmpass REsonance Ensemble, known as CORE, will perform both instrumental and vocal music of the Baroque era for their season-ending concert, at 4 p.m. Saturday in Boulder’s First Congregational Church (May 13; details and ticket access below).

Zachary Carrettin (l) with Boulder Bach CORE Ensemble

The CORE performers will be joined Boulder Bach Festival music director Zachary Carrettin on violin and flutist Ysmael Reyes, principal flute of the Cheyenne Symphony and a faculty member at Regis University. A product of the Venezuelan youth orchestra system, he has performed both the modern flute and Baroque flute throughout the country.

Moghul Emperor Akbar,
by Govardhan

A major work on the program, and one source of the program’s title will be J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 203, Amore traditore (Treacherous love). One of only two cantatas that Bach wrote in Italian, Amore traditore was composed in 1718–19 for an unknown occasion, when the composer was at the court of Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen. 

Vocal soloist Adam Ewing will be featured in this cantata for solo bass and continuo. It follows the typical three-movement form of the 18th-century Italian solo cantata of aria-recitative-aria, and its overheated text about love, betrayal and suffering is equally typical of the genre.

Carrettin will be featured playing Il grosso mogul (The great mogul), a Violin Concerto in D major by Vivaldi. Its virtuosity makes the concerto a peak to be conquered by violinists, but it should not be confused with the Grand Mogul, a mountain peak in Idaho that is a favorite destination for climbers. Nor is it same as the flute concerto by Vivaldi titled Il gran mogul, nor the opera libretto of the same title.

The title refers to the 16th-century Mughal Emperor Akbar, who expanded the Mughal Empire into India and became the subject of folk tales and flattering legends. The concerto has energetic opening and closing movements that frame an unusual slow movement marked Recitativo grave that has a mysterious and mediative quality unlike most Vivaldi slow movements. Carrettin’s performance of music by the Venetian Vivaldi reflects his own Venetian heritage.

Flutist Ysmael Reyes

Paul Miller will perform two works for viola d’amore by Attilio Ariosti. The least known composer on the program, Ariosti preceded C.P.E. Bach at the Prussian court, serving there 1697–1703. A prolific composer, he wrote more than 30 operas and oratorios as well as instrumental works.

Ariosti could play cello and keyboards, but especially the viola d’amore, a type of viol that had seven or eight bowed strings as well as sympathetic strings that ran under the fingerboard. The name (“viola of love”) may come from the fact that the sympathetic strings gave instrument a gentle and sweet sound. 

The program concludes with Reyes’s performance of C.P.E. Bach’s Flute Concerto in G major. The concerto is an arrangement by the composer from an earlier concerto for organ or harpsichord, which contributes to some of the difficulties for the flutist. Bach’s leading flute concerto, it was written in 1755, during his last year as court harpsichordist to the flute-playing Frederick the Great of Prussia. It is an example of Bach’s empfindsamer Stil (sensitive style), characterized by the expression of suddenly changing and deeply emotional moods.

# # # # #

“Il Grande Amore” (The great love)
Boulder Bach Festival CORE Ensemble
With Ysmael Reyes, flute, Zachary Carrettin, violin, Adam Ewing, bass, and Paul Miller, viola d’amore

  • Attilio Ariosti: Sonata for viola d’amore and basso continuo
  • J.S. Bach: Amore Traditore, S203
  • Vivaldi: Concerto “Il grosso mogul” for violin, strings & basso continuo
  • Ariosti: Sonata for viola d’amore and basso continuo
  • C.P.E. Bach: Concerto for flute, strings and basso continuo in G major

4 p.m. Saturday, May 13
First Congregational Church, 1128 Pine St., Boulder


Rare performance of major work by Bach in Boulder, Denver

Seicento presents original instrument version of St. John Passion

By Peter Alexander May 4 at 10:40 p.m.

Seicento, Boulder’s choral group that specializes in Baroque music, is thriving—and it’s thanks to Bach.

“I had a number of singers who asked me, could I be with you in the choir this year?” artistic director Evanne Browne says. “They want to do something this important!”

That “something important” is a historically informed performance of J.S. Bach’s 1724 St. John Passion. According to Browne that will be a first in Colorado. Performances will be Friday through Sunday in Arvada, Denver and Boulder (May 5–7; details below).

Seicento Baroque Ensemble with artistic director Evanne Browns (first row, left)

This major work is done a little less frequently than Bach’s St. Matthew Passion or Mass in B minor. And while modern instrument performances do happen from time to time, the difficulty of assembling all the pieces for a historically informed, original instrument performance makes that even more rare.

In addition to Seicento’s usual chorus, Browne had to assemble an orchestra of Baroque-era string and wind players from around the world. Colorado has Baroque string players, Browne says, but wind players—and especially Baroque bassoonists—are harder to find. Collecting the players was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces are scattered around the world.

Rehearsal of the St. John passion featuring the Baroque contrabassoon played by Keith Collins

“I call it a Tetris puzzle,” Browne says. “It’s not just ‘it takes a village,’ it takes a city to do this! It is a huge administrative task, to fly these people in and figure out when they’re coming to the airport and where they can stay and all of that.”

Browne points out that there are a lot of people working behind the scenes who will not be seen onstage. “I have a good board, and I also have four or five excellent volunteers who have done incredible work. And donors and grant writers and publicity! It’s a bigger undertaking than anything that Seicento has done.”

Among the specialized instruments required are the Baroque bassoon, a contrabassoon that stands more than seven feet tall, and such rarities as the oboe ‘d’amore and oboe de caccia—oboes with distinctive sounds that are pitched differently than the modern instrument. “It’s not just using the instruments, it’s having knowledgeable instrumentalists who have spent years studying the style as well as perfecting the sound,” Browne explains.

She also has worked with the choir to achieve a historically informed stye of performance. She has trained the singers to achieve a sound that is brighter in places and less open on the higher notes. Another issue is the way musical phrases are shaped. “The choir is doing a lot of sub-phrasing within a long phrase,” Browne says. “Within one long phrase there are many divisions—it’s lots more detailed.”

Evanne Browne rehearing the St. John Passion with Seicento

A performance of the St. John Passion unfolds on several levels. The text from the Gospel of John is sung by a soloist identified as the Evangelist. His narration lays out the story of Jesus’s arrest, trial and crucifixion. Lutheran chorales are sung by the chorus, representing the response of the congregation of believers. The choir also sings the words of the crowd in John’s story, and framing choruses that open and close Bach’s score. Arias are sung by soloists that are settings of poetic texts chosen by Bach to illuminate the story.

Portions of the Passion that pose issues for contemporary listeners are passages considered antisemitic, when the crowd described as Juden (Jews) calls for Jesus to be killed. “There are issues with the text,” Browne acknowledges. “There’s a strong emotional response, and I think Bach’s music contributes to the controversy because it’s so well done.

“We’re not softening that, but what we are hoping to do is raise the consciousness of people who might not think about the presentation being antisemitic. We have talked about it, we have had good discussions. I wrote about it in the program notes, because I want people to know we’re not making a religious statement, we are presenting an historical work that is musically very worth while.”

That last point is especially important for Browne: the opportunity to present an important work as it would have been heard by the composer. It’s both an aesthetic and an educational mission. “Part of Seicento’s mission is about education,” she says. “That doesn’t just mean that we go to a school where there are children that haven’t heard Bach before—although we have done that.”

The mission includes helping the performers learn Baroque style and giving the audience the opportunity to learn about the musical works of the Baroque era. In fact, to reach the audience Browne has already posted an introduction the St. John Passion online (here.)

In the meantime, she is looking forward to the upcoming performances. “The choir is doing fabulously,” she says. “I think it’s going to be exciting for everybody. 

“It certainly is for me!”

# # # # #

J.S. Bach: St. John Passion
Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Evanne Brown, conductor

7 p.m. Friday, May 5, Arvada United Methodist Church, Arvada
7 p.m. Saturday, May 6, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Denver
3 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Mountain View Methodist Church, Boulder

TICKETS for live performances and livestream

Grace Notes: DeVotchKa in Boulder, ‘Turandot’ in Denver, choruses everywhere

Season-ending performances provide broad choices for audiences

By Peter Alexander May 2 at 10:40 p.m.

The Longs Peak Chorus, the Longmont chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), will end their 2022–23 season of performances with a concert titled “Celebration.”

“Barbershop Harmony,” or “Barbershop Quartet” singing, is four-part a-capella singing for male voices. The most common format is to have individual quartets of four singers, although the music is also performed by larger groups of male voices, such as the full Longs Peak Chorus. Barbershop quartets have been featured in popular entertainment, such as The Music Man by Meredith Willson. 

Artistic License Barbershop Quartet

The occasion for the celebration is the 75th anniversary of the group, which was chartered with the BHS in 1948. Their concerts Friday at Saturday at Niwot High School (7 p.m. and 2 p.m.; details below) will also feature the quartet Artistic License and mixed choirs from local high schools.

Barbershop quartets are often associated with the “Gay Nineties,” or the 1890s, as was the case in The Music Man. Quartets usually wear coordinated outfits, often in a Gay Nineties style with straw hats and vests.

The visit by Artistic License and the inclusion of high school choirs are part of Long Peaks Chorus’s outreach to local music educators and students. Artistic License will visit local schools and spend time with choirs and their directors for clinics and coachings.

The program for the performances will feature classic four-part harmony as well as larger a-capella arrangements. 

# # # # #

Longs Peak Chorus,  Ron Black, director
With Artistic License quartet and local high school choirs

7 p.m. Friday, May 5
2 p.m. Saturday May 6

Niwot High School Theater


# # # # #

Boulder’s Cantabile Singers and artistic director Brian Stone will end the concert season this weekend (May 5 and 7; details below) with a tribute to the culture of the Chickasaw Nation.

The main work on their concert program will be Ilhoba”by the Chickasaw composer and pianist Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. Subtitled “The Vision,” Ilholba’ is based on a Chickasaw garfish dance song and will be performed in the Chickasaw language to a text by the composer.

Tate is an American Indian composer and pianist who has written symphonic music, ballet and opera. His works have been commissioned by major orchestras and performed around the world. He has gained a reputation as a composer who can successfully express American Indian culture through classical orchestral music.

Three other works complete the program. “Stomp on the Fire” by Andrea Ramsey uses the voice and percussive sounds of the body together. Chante Waste Hoksila (My kind-hearted boy) is a traditional Lakota lullaby that has been arranged by Lakota spiritual leader and composer Linthicum-Blackhorse in honor of the children of Uvalde, Texas. Finally, the “Wichita Baptist Hymn” uses two melodies from the Southern Plains Wichita tribe as transcribed by tribal member Tracey Gregg-Boothby.

# # # # #

“Ilhloba’: The Vision”
Cantabile Singers, Brian Stone, artistic director

  • Jerod Tate: Ilholba’
  • Andrea Ramsey: “Stomp on the Fire”
  • Lakota trad., arr. Linthicum-Blackhorse: Chante Waste Hoksila (My kind-hearted boy)
  • Andrew Marshall, arr.: “Wichita Baptist Hymn”

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 5
3 p.m. Sunday, May 7

First Congregational Church, Boulder


# # # # #

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will enter new territory Saturday when they team up with Colorado Indie rock band DeVotchKa (Russian for “girl”).

The four members of DeVotchKa

For one thing ,it will be their first appearance with the unique group that combines four acoustic performers with a wide variety of instrumental possibilities, including theremin, bouzouki, guitar, accordion, sousaphone, double bass, flute and percussion—among others. For another, the orchestra’s executive director, Sara Parkinson, will take a step beyond her usual administrative duties to conduct the performance—at the request of DeVotchKa member Tom Hagerman with whom she has collaborated in the tango quartet Grande Orquestra Navarre.

While this is a new role for Parkinson with the Phil, it is not really new for her. She has conducted opera, choirs, and orchestras in Boulder and with the Dallas Opera’s Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors.

DeVotchKa has a distinctive sound that derives largely from the inclusion of the sousaphone, accordion and the electronic theremin, along with more traditional instruments including guitar, flute and trumpet, along with a solid rhythm section. They have a passionate following in Colorado, and gained wider recognition after their music was featured in the Academy Award-winning film Little Miss Sunshine in 2006.

DeVotchKa describes their sound as a “blend of various musical genres, including Romani music, punk rock, and Eastern European folk music.” Their four key members are Hagerman, Nick Utra, Jeanie Schroder and Shawn King. The band was formed in 1997.

# # # # #

Devotchka with the Boulder Philharmonic
Sara Parkinson, conductor

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6

Macky Auditorium


# # # # #

Opera Colorado’s upcoming production of Puccini’s popular Turandot is selling rapidly. 

The two-thousand-plus capacity Ellie Caulkins Opera House is already sold out for two performances (May 6 and 24) and two other performances are currently listed as “limited availability” (details below).

Based on a play by Carlo Gozzi, Turandot is the tale of a cruel princess who seeks revenge on all men for the death of an ancestor. Besieged by suitors, she poses three riddles to the men who attempt to woo her; if they fail to answer correctly, they will be killed. After seeing the Prince of Persia fail and go to his execution, Calaf, Prince of Tartary, impulsively declares his suit.

Calaf successfully answers the three riddles, but offers to face execution anyway if Turandot can guess his name before dawn. Liú, a servant girl in love with Calaf, kills herself rather than reveal his name. Calaf himself reveals his name, but Turandot, rather than have him killed, declares that his true name is love.

Puccini died before completing Turandot. The score was completed by the composer Franco Alfano in time for the opera’s premiere, April 25, 1926, but the conductor of the premiere, Arturo Toscanini, chose to end the performance where Puccini had stopped writing. Subsequent performances generally use the Alfano completion, although it has never been highly regarded. Other completions have been attempted, but none have caught on.

# # # # #

Giacomo Puccini and Franco Alfano: Turandot
Opera Colorado
Ari Pelto, conductor; Aria Umezawa, stage director

7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6 SOLD OUT
7:30 Tuesday, May 9 (limited availability)
7:30 p.m. Friday, May 12 (limited availability) 
2 p.m. Sunday, May 24 SOLD OUT

Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Denver


Central City Opera’s Shakespeare summer: To be or not to be?

Summer 2023 festival season in question due to ongoing contract disputes

By Peter Alexander May 1 at 2:05 p.m.

Note: This article goes into some detail about the ongoing and contentious conflict between the Central City Opera and the American Guild of Musical Artists, which threatens the upcoming 2023 summer festival season of the opera. I believe that it is important for the true extent of the dispute to be known and understood by musicians, potential audience members, and other interested people. For full clarity, issues at stake are presented here as objectively as possible. However, it should be noted that representatives of the union and artists who have appeared at Central City Opera spoke to me freely and on the record; to date the opera company has not made anyone available for an interview. This article reflects the information I have been given.

Disclosure: Several of the artists quoted below are personal friends. While I was on a friendly footing with Pelham Pearce, artistic director of Central City Opera until last June, I do not have a personal relationship with any of the current CCO media representatives or administrative staff.

CENTRAL CITY OPERA (CCO) announced its planned 2023 summer festival season of three operas on Nov. 15, 2022. This was a return to the more ambitious summer festival that CCO had abandoned after 2012 due to declining income, and later COVID. All three operas planned for the coming season are based on Shakespeare: Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, Rossini’s Othello and Cole Porter’s classic musical Kiss Me Kate.

Now the entire season may be in jeopardy due to a contract dispute between the opera company and the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), representing both leading singers and the apprentice artists at CCO.

Central City Opera House. Photo by Ashraf Sewailam.

No one is saying that the season is likely to be canceled, but it’s hard to find optimism among the artists and the leadership at AGMA, who admit to being prepared for a possible work stoppage. I am still awaiting comments from CCO management, but with rehearsals slated to start late this month, the timeline is short.

In the words of AMGA’s national executive director Sam Wheeler, from a video message released April 18, “If we’re going to reach a deal, the clock is ticking.” And he stated in an interview the same day, “at the moment we’re nowhere near an agreement.”

The previous contract between AGMA and CCO expired in August, 2022, toward the end of the summer festival season. Prior to that, the CCO Board of Directors had hired Pamela Pantos as president and chief executive officer of the company. At that time, longtime director of the company Pelham Pearce remained as artistic director.

Just before the 2022 season opened, Pearce suddenly resigned via a statement on his personal Facebook page that said only “I have resigned as Artistic Director of the Central City Opera.” Pearce has made no further comment, and there has been no clarification from any source of his reasons for leaving the company where he had worked since 1996. Whatever his reasons, there had been a complete change of management before the AGMA contract expired in August.

# # # # #

HERE IS HOW the dispute between CCO and AGMA has played out since then: The two parties began negotiations for a new contract Nov. 1, 2022. On Dec. 6, AGMA published on their Web page a letter that they had sent to the CCO Board of Directors. It claimed that “prior to contract expiration, CCO management committed several violations of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) that resulted in the company not paying more than $12,000 to Apprentice Artists.”

The letter also claimed that “several artists have come forward detailing disturbing conduct ranging from public body shaming to sexual harassment, to overt threats of retaliation for union activity.” The letter further noted that CCO had retained Littler Mendelson P.C., which was described as “a notorious union-busting law firm.” Finally, the letter listed several proposals from CCO that were described as “unprecedented and draconian.” (You may read the entire letter here.)

Central City Opera responded on Dec. 14 by releasing “Facts About Our Ongoing Collective Bargaining Negotiations,” in which they expressed their disappointment at “unfounded assertions being made by some AGMA leaders and members.” None of the specific points raised by AGMA were directly answered, except to state that CCO has “policies and reporting procedures to protect everyone on staff from harassment and discrimination.” (This notice may be read here.)

The next day—Dec. 15, 2022—AGMA released a brief statement of their own. “Central City Opera’s latest statement is nothing more than a transparent attempt to distract from their own misconduct,” it stated (posted on the Web here).

Ken Cazan, a stage director with longtime association with CCO, had been engaged to direct the summer 2023 production of Kiss Me Kate. Near the end of the year Cazan wrote a letter to Pantos as executive director of CCO in which he stated his unwillingness to work on the summer productions until the issues had been resolved.

At his invitation, the summer’s other two directors, Dan Wallace Miller (Roméo) and Ashraf Sewailam (Othello) also signed the letter, which was posted publicly Dec. 20. This is meaningful because the three directors have very different stakes in the coming season. While Cazan is a senior stage director with a safe faculty position at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, Miller works for a small opera company and Othello is Sewailam’s first contract as stage director. (Read their letter here.)

After more negotiations, the next public exchange between the parties was in April. On April 14, while negotiations were ongoing, CCO issued a new 14-paragraph statement headed “Update on the Ongoing Negotiations with AGMA.” The document contests several previous statements from AGMA.

Two issues in particular have been vigorously contested. First, the statement reads, “AGMA claims publicly that CCO owes money to artists using the phrase ‘Pay Your Artists.’ There are no legal or contractual grounds for these claims regarding payments owed; CCO honors its contracts and pays its artists.”

Second, the company raises what appears to be a new issue, claiming that “AGMA has requested that all CCO artists become AGMA members and pay AGMA’s initiation fee and dues, effectively denying CCO artists the right to choose whether or not to join AGMA.”

Finally, the “Update” includes a series of statements preceded by the heading “FACT”. These essentially are statements of CCO’s position on the disputed issues with AGMA, which AGMA contends are not facts. Since no supporting document are included, it is difficult to verify the factual nature of the statements. (The full “Update” is online here.)

The following Tuesday, April 18, AGMA placed a video online responding to CCO’s “Update.” The “Video Message Regarding the Ongoing Labor Dispute with Central City Opera” was recorded by Wheeler, speaking from notes but without a visible script. This is the most detailed statement released by either side, and therefore some portions need to be quoted directly. In his opening, Wheeler says bluntly, “There is a lot in (CCO’s “Update”) that is either false, misleading, or completely out of context.”

He quotes written statements from several of AGMA’s negotiators calling into question CCO’s sincerity. For example, one negotiator reported “they have been confrontational . . . and purposely wasted our time repeatedly over the last six months.” Another statement reads, “Central City’s negotiating team repeatedly speaks to our staff in a haranguing and dismissive manner, and it is clear that their lawyers have little knowledge of how the opera industry actually works.”

Wheeler talks at some length about the $12,000 AGMA claims is owed to apprentice artists. He covers one of the specific sources of the $12,000, fees to apprentice artists for performances “outside of the regular opera season.” He reads directly from the contract in support of AGMA’s position, adding that “Central City said in their statement last week that there is ‘no basis’ in the contract that they owe any money to anybody.” Outside of the specific language in the contract quoted by AGMA, I have seen no specific documentation supporting either side’s position.

The “Video Message” continues with more details about the issues of union membership and fees, among other contractual specifics. It also refers to one of the basics of most performing artists’ union contracts, what is known as “pay or play.” This is the proposition that once an artist has been given a contract, if their appearance were cancelled capriciously the payment must still be made.

Wheeler says “Central City is trying to destroy pay-or-play. What does that mean practically? It means that if Central City were to get rid of an artist for a bad reason or a discriminatory reason and not pay out their contract, AGMA would not be able to do anything about it.” (You may watch Wheeler’s entire “Video Message” here.)

# # # # #

I HAVE SPOKEN directly with people from AGMA, artists who have appeared at Central City Opera, and attorneys with knowledge of labor law. Based on those conversations I will attempt to clarify some of the disputed topics.

First, it should be noted that there are two issues still in dispute from AGMA’s previous contract with CCO. One is the $12,000 that AGMA says is owed to apprentice artists. AGMA’s justification is laid out in Wheeler’s “Video Message.” Wheeler also notes that five arbitrations of those payments are pending through the not-for-profit American Arbitration Association. In the meantime, Wheeler says “we’re going to keep pursuing these grievances under the contract to make sure that the artists who were there last summer get what they’re entitled to.”

Most of the $12,000 is for performances that the apprentices gave outside the schedule of performances in the opera house proper. Wheeler and AGMA say that the contract requires the company to pay each apprentice “an honorarium of $60 per performance, in addition to all other compensation.” This would cover events such a donor events, community events, and other occasions that come up every year over the course of the season. As Wheeler explains the union’s view, “we negotiated this in 2019 and in 2022. Central City simply did not pay this honorarium.”

The company has only said “CCO has always paid its artists and production staff in full,” with no further details. The word that is circulating, with no attribution, is that the company stopped honoring that clause when the previous contract ran out. AGMA says the company is obligated to observe the contract beyond that original term, so long as negotiations are ongoing, a position that appears to be supported by law.

The other issue from the past season is the complaints of sexual harassment and body shaming. These reported incidents are apparently being investigated, and until a conclusion has been reached, neither side can comment.

The issue of union membership deserves careful explanation. As stated, CCO’s claim that AGMA wants all artists to become union members is hard to reconcile with the union’s position that it is by contract an “agency shop” in every state that does not have “right to work” laws, which includes Colorado. 

“Agency shops” are workplaces covered by union contract where the employees may either join the union or pay an “agency fee” that covers the union’s costs for negotiating and defending the contract that applies to all workers, both union members and non-members. By law, an agency shop cannot require employees to join the union, although they can and do require them to pay the agency fee. In other words, AGMA could not legally require artists to join the union.

In other words, when CCO says “AGMA is attempting to expand its representation to its artists who are currently not subject to its membership rules and who have never before been required to pay AGMA initiation fees or dues,” they are claiming something that AGMA denies, that they say they have never demanded in their contracts, and that could potentially be illegal.

I have talked to union members who work in non right-to-work states—stage hands, musicians, and others—and they all agree that paying the agency fee is routine. Many people choose to join the union, since they are paying the fee anyway, but others do not. And as far as AGMA specifically is concerned, Miller calls AGMA’s dues “more reasonable than any other entertainment union in the business. . . . It’s not a lot of money.”

Another serious sticking point for the artists is “pay-or-play.” As explained above, this is contract language requiring the company to pay artists for all scheduled performances. This prevents artists from being dropped from a performance at a late moment or for capricious reasons. Wheeler says “Central City is currently trying to undermine pay-or-play, and that’s really one of the bedrocks of the AGMA contracts across the country. It’s what allows our members to be secure.”

“We have to have pay-or-play protection,” Cazan says. “Otherwise they can fire us on a whim.” Every professional opera singer I know has confirmed that this is standard practice across the industry, and it is essential for their financial wellbeing in a business where contracts are signed years in advance. If a singer is dismissed or a contract is cancelled soon before a performance, the singer has no possibility of finding another engagement for the time period of the canceled contract.

Another issue raised by Wheeler in the “Video Message” is new demands that were raised by the company at the last minute. According to Wheeler, the “Update” from CCO was actually released while talks were ongoing on April 14. “[W]hile we were in talks, they released (a) statement, in the middle of the bargaining session,” he says. “They came back . . .  and proposed for the first time cutting paragraph after paragraph after paragraph of long existing contract language. They called these their ‘additional initial proposals,’ which is not anything I had ever heard of before. Once you’ve been at the table for six months, you don’t add more proposals.”

In their December letter to CCO board members, AGMA referred to Littler Mendelson as a “union busting” law firm. So far as I know neither the CCO board nor administration have commented. But you don’t have to look far to find the firm’s reputation. They have  become well known as the firm representing Starbucks in their fight against unionization, and they have represented other major corporations—including MacDonalds, Apple, Delta Airlines and Nissan—in their anti-union battles.

John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University and a visiting scholar at the Berkeley Labor Center, has written that “Littler is now the nation’s largest law firm specializing in union avoidance activities.” Littler’s own Web page states explicitly that they “excel in union avoidance,” and “for unionized clients, we bargain tenaciously.” If CCO did not know that they were engaging a notoriously anti-union law firm, they had not done their research.

I keep hearing one question from people I talk with: Where is the CCO board in all of this? The answer is “mostly silent.” And “nobody knows for sure.”

As noted above, AGMA had approached the board with a letter early in the negotiating process (Dec. 6, 2022). As Wheeler explained, “early on in this process we had a suspicion that maybe the board was not aware of this approach that would be taken at the table, because it was such a departure from what we’ve done over the last 80 years. So very early on in the process in November, our bargaining committee wrote a letter to the board.

“The board did not respond to that letter of our committee, which is why we went public in December. . . . So we have not had any substantive discussion with the board.”

As a veteran approaching his 21st year with CCO, Cazan is more emphatic when he says “I’m very concerned that the board is backing the opera company 100% and hasn’t contacted any of us who have been involved in that company for years to ask us what we’re feeling, or what we’re thinking. And it seems as if what the artists think and feel simply doesn’t matter.”

Likewise, Sewailam says “The board’s silence is deafening.” He sees this as the continuation of an old tradition in the arts. “Artists were always considered the help by patronage,” he says. “I wonder if nothing has changed over the past 200, 300 years. Are artists still the help and should know their places, and just be grateful?”

# # # # #

AT THIS TIME, the status of the 2023 season remains unclear. Central City Opera is going ahead with plans and promotions, and the stage directors continue to work on their respective productions. “We’re having our meetings and having our discussions,” Sewailam says. “Everybody’s keeping a very quote-unquote ‘polite’ decorum.” But as for prospects for the summer season, “I really don’t know.”

“I would like to think it will happen,” Cazan says. But, “I’m not holding my breath.” He’s also concerned what the mood will be if the season goes forward as planned. “All of us are dreading what the mentality will be this summer,” he says. “This is a very frightening situation to be walking back into.”

AGMA executive director Wheeler shares Cazan’s hopes. “I am an optimist by nature,” he says. “Central City Opera is a jewel of the opera world. It would be a real shame if we were not able to reach an agreement. And so we are hopeful that we can change course and get on the track to have a deal before folks show up to work, but at the moment we have to prepare for the worst, given where things are.”

Clearly, many uncertainties remain about the future at CCO. But in the midst of the tense negotiations and difficult relationships, Sewailam is certain of a few things. For one, “It’s all about standing together,” he says. “If we stand together, the season can’t go.”

As for the demands that he sees coming from the company, he does not believe that they are compatible with the historical positions of AGMA and its artists. “I don’t think the company can have their way and continue being an AGMA signatory,” he says.

“That’s what I’m sure of.”

NOTE: Comments on this post require prior approval by the site administrator. Comments with egregious personal attacks will not be approved. I am happy to host a discussion of the issues, but not the trading of insults. Thank you for your understanding.

Correction: The original post said April 18 was a Monday. It was a Tuesday, as the corrected post indicates. There have also been corrections to minor typos.

NOTE: Further developments in the dispute will be followed here as they occur. That includes any events in the negotiating process, any new statements from either side, and the final disposition of the 2023 season.

CU College of Music recognizes two outstanding artists

Bass/baritone Ashraf Sewailam, writer/guitarist Izzy Fincher honored by the College of Music

By Peter Alexander April 27 at 7:01 p.m.

The University of Colorado College of Music recently announced honors for students and alumni. Two of the honorees—bass/baritone Ashraf Sewailam and writer/guitarist Izzy Fincher—may be familiar to readers of the Sharpsandflatirons blog, as their names have appeared here many times.

Ashraf Sewailam (CU-Boulder BM ’94, MM ’96, DMA ’08) has been selected to receive the College of Music’s 2023 Distinguished Alumnus Award. As a freelance operatic bass/baritone, Sewailam has appeared around the United States at the Minnesota Opera, Seattle Opera, Washington Concerto Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, among others. His international career has taken him to New Zealand and Australia, and he was a member of the Cairo Opera Company in his native Egypt for eight years.

Ashraf Sewailam

In announcing the award, the College of Music wrote that Sewailam is “an internationally recognized and prize-winning opera star (whose) extensive travels . . . include roles on the world’s most prestigious stages. . . . Sewailam’s stunning career stands out for its range. From serving as a voiceover actor for Disney when he was still living in Cairo . . . to winning over audiences around the world, Sewailam is ‘one of our most successful voice alums,’ according to associate professor of opera Leigh Holman.”

The announcement also states, “Sewailam credits his career accomplishments and accolades directly to the education, professional connections and personal relationships he gained while studying at the College of Music. ‘I couldn’t have started my professional career without having been situated at CU Boulder,’ he says.”

Sewailam first appeared in Sharpsandflatirons in January 2017, when he appeared in a performance of the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra singing the music of Shostakovich. He has since been noted for performances with the Boulder Bach Festival and at Central City Opera, including roles in The Magic Flute and Il Trovatore. 

Most recently, Sewailam was reviewed here in Seattle Opera’s world premiere production of Sheila Silver’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, where I wrote that he “sang beautifully, using his resonant bass to create contrast with the violence that surrounds his family.” He is scheduled to direct Central City Opera’s production of Rossini’s Othello this summer. 

Izzy Fincher

Among current undergraduate students, the College of Music singled out Izzy Fincher as their outstanding graduating senior. Fincher will graduate with a BM in classical guitar performance, a BA in journalism and a business minor, and has also been named outstanding graduate of the CU College of Media, Communications and Information. 

Outstanding students in the College of Music are selected each semester based on academic merit, a strong record of musicianship and a record of service and leadership. Fincher will be recognized and deliver a speech at the College of Music commencement ceremony on May 11.

Fincher served an internship with Sharpsandflatirons in the fall of 2020, writing both news articles on the limited events taking place during the COVID shutdown, and opinion pieces on “The White Male Frame” in classical music and “Reflections of a Female, Japanese-American Classical Guitarist.” Since then she has continued to write occasional preview articles and reviews, and she served as both a reporter and editor for the CU Independent. Her senior guitar recital April 23 reflected her research work on female composers of music for guitar.

After graduation, Fincher will attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to pursue a master’s degree in classical guitar performance under René Izquierdo. An outstanding and insightful writer, her presence at Sharpsandflatirons will be missed.