An evening with the Bel Canto Opera Trio

By Dion Nizzi
Reader Contributor

A few times a year, the opportunity arises for multiple Sandpoint gems to shine simultaneously. Next Thursday, Jan. 28, the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint (MCS) gets it’s opportunity, in conjunction with Pend Orielle Arts Council and the Panida Theater when they present “Dark to Light: The Human Journey,” a dramatic presentation of the human condition brought to life through music, opera and the written word.

The Bel Canto Trio (from left to right): John Fitzgerald, Karin Wedemeyer,and Brenda Rutledge. Photo by Ben Olson.

The Bel Canto Trio (from left to right): John Fitzgerald, Karin Wedemeyer,and Brenda Rutledge. Photo by Ben Olson.

The event serves many purposes. First and foremost is the opportunity for the public to experience what joys classical music and opera offer and serves as an opportunity to introduce some things to potential and current students in regard to what it means to feel the impact of music on the soul. Yet, as Karin Wedemeyer, founder of MCS and describes it, “This is not your regular opera recital.”

The evening features Wedemeyer as performing soprano, Brenda Rutledge as mezzo-soprano and Sandpoint newcomer John Fitzgerald as barritone. Said Wedemeyer, “We’re really excited to introduce this program. We’ve created something really different that incorporates poetry, voice and different aspects of various operas.”

“This grew out of the voice department of the conservatory since we’re all opera singers. It came by chance. We were singing at various events and POAC approached us to see if we wanted to do an opera outreach…if we wanted to put our voices together and produce an opera gala in the community, so we put our heads together and created this program,” she continued.

The outreach program is the large part of the evening. “A lot of young singers have had no exposure to opera whatsoever. I think what the human voice can do, in this type of setting, is something they may not have experienced,” added Wedemeyer. “It’s really about showing [students] the end product, and for those who are interested in becoming a part of the conservatory, we’re here to take them on that journey and we’ll be their biggest cheerleaders.”

The idea of the performance immediately connected with new MCS teacher Fitzgerald. “I just moved to Idaho this summer in order to teach classical music,” he said. “When I found a conservatory in the middle of northern Idaho, I jumped at the chance to come and audition. Shortly after I arrived, I was asked by Karin to be involved in an opera program and this opportunity to outreach. I jumped again.  Finding the right works for all three voices was a really joint effort. It was quite a lot of fun to assemble this concert.”

Rutledge has been with the conservatory for a year. “It’s been so exciting,” she said. “We have wonderful musicians at the conservatory. It’s been inspirational for our students when we share with them the idea that their teachers practice hard too. This concert is a chance for them to come here and see what hard work can accomplish in its end form.”

Caren Reiner is the evening accompanist, providing the entirety of the music. She’s excited about the opportunity and the challenge to make the performance a meaningful one. “It’s the emotion that we’re trying to convey throughout this entire program,” she said. “The music was selected for the sole purpose of making it as easy as possible for the audience to understand the concept of the three themes.”

Her husband, Mark Reiner will be the “poetic reader” for the evening—a  narrator weaving the different opera pieces together in a simple and uncomplicated way. “My part is to read the poetic pieces. To set the mood for each section, to help the people flow through the opera,” he said.

“The production is called ‘From Dark to Light,’” said Wedemeyer. “During the opening of the performance, half the stage will be in darkness and performers will step into the light at the front of the stage. The lighting will shift as the mood changes. The first part is called ‘Longing.’ We’re going to have different arias that fit with that mood. The point is going to be in how the music and vocals relate to the feeling of longing. The second part of the evening has to to with the mood and concept of ‘Death.’ There is some interaction with the audience, and we’ll be working primarily with the darker areas of the stage. And for our last section, ‘Reunion,’ we are moving from the previous experiences of longing, death and darkness into an understanding of coming together with all experience and stepping back into and feeling the light. My hope is, with these performances, that people fall in love with opera.”

If you’re curious about exactly what this world-class music is about, don’t miss this opportunity. Who knows? There may be a little Mozart in Sandpoint who needs to hear what classical music and opera can do.

The Bel Canto Opera Trio perform at the Panida Theater on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $10 and $5 for 18 and under.

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