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A night at the opera: Company celebrates second season in IL

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Beverly Lane Lorenz, For The Lancaster News

Opera has come to Indian Land.

Opera Experience Southeast presented Puccini’s “La Boheme” to a full house Jan. 7 and 8 in the Lake House at Sun City Carolina Lakes.

Excitement and drama filled the theater from the opening scene to the final curtain. “La Boheme” tells the timeless story of a shy young woman who meets and falls in love with a passionate poet on a cold evening in Paris. Love, jealousy, forgiveness – all the necessary ingredients were neatly wrapped in music, with subtitles conveniently displayed.

The cast of seven enjoyed an intimate relationship with the audience, which eagerly responded with applause throughout the performances. At the end, a standing ovation seemed inadequate as cries of “bravo” and “bravissimo” echoed in the hearts of audience members who did not want the program to end.

The cast included John Kaneklides as Rodolfo, Krista Wilhelmsen as Mimi, Joshua Conyers as Marcello, Amy Lefler as Musetta, Georgios Papadimitriou as Colline, Jeremy Johnson as Schaunard and Mark Tofano as Benoit/Alcindoro.  

The entire production company, as well as the musical pianist and director Sophia Pavelnko-Chandley, seemed to work effortlessly and flawlessly to perfect the performance.

Young company

The opera company’s co-director and conductor, John Fowler, has had a 30-year career as a leading international tenor, performing title roles in the world’s premier opera houses.

He was awarded an Emmy for his portrayal of Rodolfo in “La Boheme” at New City Opera’s “Live from Lincoln Center” television series, a role he has sung more than 300 times on major operatic stages worldwide.

His wife, Marie-Claire O’Reirdan, the opera’s technical director, has performed for 20 years as an opera and concert soloist in the United

Kingdom and throughout Europe, singing leading soprano roles on major international stages.

Fowler and O’Reirdan started Opera Experience Southeast last year.

“We have a  profound desire to nurture and promote U.S.-educated operatic talent, to ignite the art form we love through performance and education,” the couple said. In doing so, they hope to build audiences who will continue to enjoy opera.

“John teaches at Winthrop (University) and has produced several operas for the school,” O’Reirdan said. “Winthrop generously sponsored a performance of ‘La Boheme’ in May 2012 and has collaborated with OES by allowing the company to use Tillman Hall as our rehearsal space.”

About the cast

All of the cast members are either students or recent graduates. Two of them studied with Fowler at Winthrop.

Kaneklides, who receives rave reviews for his performance in this opera, has received awards for his vocal performances as well.

He made his Carnegie Hall debut as a finalist in the Nico Castel International Master Singer Competition. He is working on his master of music degree at Winthrop.

Lefler also studied at Winthrop with Fowler after earning a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Central Arkansas.

She studied in Perigueux, France, and participated in master classes with composer Isabella Aboulker and Frederick Burchinal as well.  

Others cast members come from as far away as Athens, Greece, where Papadimitriou graduated in classical singing. He was awarded a Greek state scholarship to continue his graduate study in the United States.

Johnson has performed around the country, as well as in Austria and Canada.

Chesapeake, Va., native Conyers has many credits from around  the United States and is pursuing a master of music degree in vocal performance at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.
Wilhelmsen has performed in many opera houses around the country and is pursuing a performance diploma at Indiana University.

Tofano studied with Becky Cook-Carter and Connie Rhyne-Bray and has performed with Opera Carolina and others on numerous occasions, specializing in comedic characters and aristocratic gentlemen.

The company’s founders say breaking into the opera industry is difficult for young performers now.

“We found we had many more opportunities to hone our craft than currently exist today,” they said. Often, young performers hear, “I love what you do; come back to me when you have more experience.”

Opera Experience Southeast offers young talent just what they need, while delighting their audiences.