Record number of students attend local opera

2010-04-22T21:09:00Z Record number of students attend local operaJACI WEBB Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
April 22, 2010 9:09 pm  • 

A local star was born Thursday at the Alberta Bair Theater.

Skyview High School choral director Amy Logan brought in a large group of fans for the matinee performance of “La Boheme.” About a third of the 800 people who took in the production — 240 students — were from Skyview’s music program, and several said they were proud of Logan, who sang the soprano lead Mimi.

“Amy Logan is definitely an inspiration to us,” Skyview senior Stephen Seder said. “She’s quite a hero to the students.”

Even students who weren’t from Skyview were roaring their approval of Logan’s tender aria in the second act. Logan performed alongside another Montana native, Jeffrey Grant Kitto, who played Mimi’s suitor Ruldolfo.

“It’s way cool. I thought it was going to be kind of boring, but I really liked it,” said Rocky Mountain High School senior Melanie Wahlbrink.

Bass Dennis Rupp, a frequent performer in Rimrock Opera productions, played Colline the philosopher. In that role, he had a few comedic moments that made a nice respite from the tension of Mimi’s worsening condition as she grows weak from tuberculosis.

Rupp encouraged Logan to move from clarinetist in the orchestra pit to vocalist in the production. And over the last four years, Logan has taken on bigger and bigger roles. Baritone Chris Sheppard, choral director at Montana State University Billings, also moved from chorus director to one of the leads, Schaunard, in this production. Other leads were Jan Michael Kliewer as Marcello and Laura Loge as Musetta. Barbara Day Turner conducts the 27-piece orchestra.

More than two dozen Skyview students performed on stage and in the orchestra pit, including 12 members of the marching band, who wore their blue falcon uniforms and played music as they marched around the stage.

 Thursday’s matinee set attendance records for the largest audience at an opera school show.

“People were all the way into the upper balcony, which has never happened before at an opera school performance,” said ABT education director Bess Fredlund. “I think that it is because of the star Amy who  brought hundreds of kids. And the word is getting out that people can come to this show. St. Vincent Healthcare had 125 volunteers here.”

Students came from across the region, including Billings and Lockwood, Big Timber, Bridger, Cody, Wyo., Red Lodge, Rosebud, and Byron, Wyo.

ROC general director Douglas Nagel chatted to the audience during set changes Thursday, giving insight into what it takes to put on such a big production. Sets are trucked in from Utah, and the costumes were made for the cast by Westendorf Costume Emporium in Iowa. Henrietta V. Johnstone, who had a walk-on part in the café scene, has underwritten the cost of costuming and sets for ROC for many years, Nagel said.

“Just wait until you see the snow fall in the next act,” Nagel said.

Even though the audience knew it was coming, when the first flakes flew, one girl in the back row gasped, “Cool.”

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