Opera Company of Middlebury celebrates 15 years

MIDDLEBURY — “It’s not often that you get a chance to look back over a chunk of your life and see so clearly that you’ve had an impact on people – that they love you and care for your community and want to be part of what’s happening here.”
That’s how Doug Anderson, the long-time executive director of Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater and Artistic Director of the Opera Company of Middlebury, summed up his feelings of OCM’s Gala held last Saturday night to celebrate 15 years of fantastic performances. Describing it as one of the crowing achievements of his career, Anderson and Production Manager Mary Longey had reached out to the stars of the company’s 20 shows over those past 15 years, asking them to return for a one-night performance.
“For 15 astonishing singers to travel from across the country and sing for free, just because they love the experiences they’ve had in Middlebury…I don’t know. I just think that’s incredibly unusual. It says a lot about this town, and about the fantastic team at OCM that has worked so hard to make it all happen,” Anderson said.
It’s difficult to overstate what OCM has accomplished since its start 15 years ago, and Saturday night’s review — accompanied by a brief slide show about the performer who would next be on stage to sing a famous number from an OCM opera — brought a flood of fond memories from all those in attendance.
Brandon’s own Joshua Collier led off the evening with “Una furtiva lagrima,” from last fall’s production of L’Elisir d’Amore, followed by Nathan Wentworth’s wonderful performance of “Largo al factotum,” from his portrayal of Figaro in the company’s early production of The Barber of Seville. Nathan came out of retirement as an opera singer to deliver the number, including a romp through the crowd to the delight of the audience.
In a stunning red gown, soprano Sarah Cullins sang the beautiful “Chi il bel sogno,” from La Rondine (one of the company’s most memorable operas), and tenor Matt Morgan and baritone Andrew Cummings sang the powerful duet, “Au fond du temple saint,” from the company’s fabulous production of The Pearl Fishers.
Each production built on the next, with acclaimed opera star Meredith Parsons McComb singing “Habanera,” in the company’s first show, Carmen, followed by Bray Wilkins singing from The Magic Flute, bass Erik Kroncke performing “Gremin’s Aria” from Eugene Onegin and soprano Rochelle Bard delivering a stirring performance of “Sempre libera” fromLa Traviata to bring the sold-out crowd to its feet.
The vivacious mezzo soprano Dawn Pierce and tenor Bray Wilkins would sing two more songs from Eugene Onegin to start the second act, followed by Suzanne Kantorski’s beautiful performance of “Mi chiamano Mimi” from La Bohéme. Baritone Joshua Jeremiah, who has performed a number of memorable roles for OCM — comedic and dramatic — burst on the stage in his tuxedo to belt out “Perfidi” with all the emotional angst of the troubled king he played in OCM’s production of Macbeth.
Local resident Sophia Hirsch, a lead violinist and a member of her own quartet, played a beautiful rendition of “Meditation,” from the opera Thais, followed by James Flora’s “De’ miei bollenti spiriti” from La Traviata, and Meredith Lustig’s “I can smell the sea air,” from this June’s performance of A Streetcar Named Desire. Then the entire cast gathered to sing the traditional drinking song, “Brindisi” from La Traviata — all accompanied by Mary Jane Austin on the piano.
It was a stunning performance, prompting a standing ovation from a crowd that was grateful as much for the shared experiences as the evening’s performance.
Tenor Bray Wilkins, above, is joined by Stella Andrews, Ari Graham-Gurland, Lia Robinson, Dahlia Harrison and Abby Tufts in a recreation of their scene in OCM’s production of The Magic Flute. Photo by Max Kraus
“It was a celebration of family, in a sense, and of the art form,” said OCM board President Chip Malcolm, explaining that many members of the community have become so involved it feels like family — from board members, to sponsors, to hosts.
“What’s incredible, and what this gala showed,” Malcolm said, “is that while we’re a small company in a small town in a very small market, we’re producing very high quality opera and we’re creating something special with the relationships we have with these performers. And they get it, and this community gets it.”
“You don’t get rich running an opera company, but you feel rich after a night like this,” Anderson added. “We started from scratch 15 years ago, and since then we’ve come to know and love a group of singers who are not only great artists, but also great human beings. Middlebury has become their second home. I can’t express how much they’ve enriched my life, and, I think, the life of this community.” 

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