by Giuseppe Verdi
May 5, 2023 | 7:30 PM
May 7, 2023 | 2:00 PM
DeVos Performance Hall
Verdi’s towering masterpiece Aida is a tale of patriotism, love and betrayal, set against the backdrop of ancient Egypt. Aida, princess of Ethiopia, is the captive slave of the Egyptian princess Amneris. Both are in love with Radamès, who commands the Egyptian army against the invading Ethiopians. The love triangle turns to ruin when Aida’s father, Amonasro, appeals to his daughter’s love of country to betray Radamès.
Estimated Run Time 3 hours with one intermission
Sung in Italian with projected English titles
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Maestro James Meena | Conductor
James Meena consistently earns critical acclaim for his artistic vision and dynamic presence on the podium in concert, opera, and ballet.
Maestro Meena serves as Artistic Director for Opera Carolina (Charlotte) and Artistic Director for Opera Grand Rapids.
Post-covid, he has led acclaimed performances with Opera Grand Rapids and Opera Carolina of Turandot, Aida, Don Giovanni, and the new MLK-themed music drama I Dream. Pre-covid engagements include performances of Turandot in the Teatro Antiche Taormina and Teatro Greco Siracusa; Tosca at the Luglio Festivale Trapani in Sicilia; a double-bill of Rachmaninoff’s rarely performed Aleko paired with Pagliacci as well as La fanciulla del West, both with New York City Opera; Le nozze di Figaro for Teatro Sociale Rovigo Italy, La fanciulla del West for five prestigious Italian theaters: Teatro del Giglio, Lucca Italy, Teatro Verdi in Pisa, Teatro Alighieri di Ravenna, Teatro Pavarotti di Modena and Teatro Goldoni di Livorno, plus Rigoletto, The Magic Flute, Carmen and Yvgeny Onegin with Opera Carolina and Opera Grand Rapids, a Gala concert with Renee Fleming and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra; Porgy & Bess with Margaret Island Open-Air Theatre in Budapest for their Summer Festival, and La bohème with the prestigious Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, and with Opéra de Montréal; and Masterworks Concerts with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.
As guest conductor, Maestro Meena has led performances in opera houses throughout North America, including L’Opera de Montreal for Madama Butterfly, Pagliacci/Gianni Schicchi, Le nozze di Figaro, and La traviata; Michigan Opera Theatre for Die Zauberflöte; Edmonton Opera for Falstaff, Otello, Macbeth, and Yvgeny Onegin; and Manitoba Opera, where he conducted the première of Transit of Venus by the Canadian team of composer Victor Davies and librettist Maureen Hunter, recorded for national broadcast on the CBC. His Opera Carolina performances of Faust, Eugene Onegin, and Il trovatore are captured on recording for NPR World of Opera.
With extensive experience in opera, ballet, and symphonic music, Maestro Meena held principal and resident conducting posts with the Cleveland Ballet, Toledo Symphony, and Toledo Opera in addition to guest conducting appearances that include a nationally televised Thanksgiving concert for the Korean Broadcasting System Symphony; performances of Stravinsky’s tour de force La Sacre du printemps with the National Symphony Orchestra, Taiwan; concerts with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra in the new Cairo Opera House; and symphony concerts with the orchestra of the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania, the Orchestra della Toscana in Italy.
Maestro Meena has been engaged as guest conductor with orchestras and opera companies in the United States, Italy, Taipei, Korea, Canada, and Mexico including the Mexico City Philharmonic, the Washington Opera, Opera Pacific, Portland Opera, and the Utah Opera. On opera stages, he has conducted legendary singers including Renée Fleming, Denyce Graves, James McCracken, Mignon Dunn, Marilyn Horne, Jerome Hines, Diana Soviero, Jerry Hadley, Mark Delavan, and Marcello Giordani.
Since 2001, Maestro Meena has presented six regional premieres in Charlotte, including Cold Sassy Tree and Susannah by Carlisle Floyd, the company’s first productions of Der Rosenkavalier, Nabucco, Macbeth, and Les pêcheurs des perles, the regional premiere of Richard Danielpour’s new American opera, Margaret Garner, starring Denyce Graves in April 2006, plus new productions of Adolphus Hailstork’s Rise for Freedom, a collaborative production of Scalia/Ginsburg by Derek Wang with Opera Grand Rapids, the U.S. veterans-themed opera The Falling and the Rising by Zach Redler and Jere Dye, and Douglas Tappin’s new work I Dream, created for the 50th commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
James Meena is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and Baldwin Wallace College Conservatory of Music. His principal conducting teachers include Thomas Mihalak (New Jersey Symphony), Robert Page (Cleveland Orchestra), Rudolph Fellner (Pittsburgh Opera), and Boris Halip (Bolshoi Ballet), with whom he also studied violin. He has served as Assistant Conductor to Andre Previn, Gunther Schuller, Michael Tilson Thomas, Anton Guadagno, and Anton Coppola. For several seasons, he was Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Opera, where he made his operatic debut conducting Die Zauberflöte. He made his professional debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony conducting Haydn’s monumental oratorio The Creation. Maestro Meena received the Distinguished Alumni Award from his undergraduate alma mater in 1997 for his commitment to visionary excellence and the growth of cultural institutions.
Jay Lesenger | Stage Director
During Jay Lesenger’s more than 45-year career as stage director, administrator, and teacher, he has staged more than 200 operas, operettas, and musicals.
He continues to be recognized for productions that are dramatically compelling and musically informed. For 21 years, from 1994 to 2015, Jay was the General/Artistic Director of Chautauqua Opera, the longest-serving general director in the company’s history. While there, he mounted more than 50 productions, including new stagings of Peter Grimes, Luisa Miller, Vanessa, Macbeth, Il Trovatore, Stiffelio, Two Widows, Maria Stuarda, The Cunning Little Vixen, Regina, The Ballad of Baby Doe, Susannah, and The Consul and much of the standard repertory. His Chautauqua production of Robert Ward’s The Crucible was also seen at Opera Boston and Mobile Opera. Musical theater/operetta productions for Chautauqua include A Little Night Music, Once Upon a Mattress, She Loves Me, The Music Man, The Pirates of Penzance, and Fiddler on the Roof.
His new staging of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena opened Beverly Sills’s first season as general director of the New York City Opera. Other productions for NYCO include The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and Street Scene.
For New Orleans, he staged the world premiere of Thea Musgrave’s opera Pontalba commissioned for the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. His productions of The Ballad of Baby Doe and Die Walküre garnered Best Opera Production awards for their respective seasons.
Other representative productions include The Tales of Hoffmann, Rigoletto, and Candide for Palm Beach Opera; Werther, Turandot, Lohengrin, and Anna Bolena for San Diego Opera; Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, Samson et Dalila, The Magic Flute, Brundibar and Der Rosenkavalier for Opera Pacific. For Atlanta Opera, he staged 15 works, including his innovative production of Ariadne auf Naxos, which was later seen in Virginia and Chautauqua, and telecast on PBS from Florentine Opera/Milwaukee.
Productions in Europe include La Bohème, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Eugene Onegin for Opera Nordfjord in Norway, and Madama Butterfly for Volkstheater Rostock in Germany.
For five years, he directed the School of Music Opera Theater at the University of Michigan and later was Director of Opera at Northwestern University where his productions included the first staging ever of the Beaumarchais Operatic Trilogy — The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Ghosts of Versailles.
Lesenger is a nationally recognized teacher of acting for singers and has directed and taught at the Mannes School of Music, The Juilliard School, the Academy of Vocal Arts, and Indiana University.
For the Manhattan School of Music, he staged the first major New York revival of John Corigliano/William Hoffman’s The Ghosts of Versailles. Past productions for Opera Grand Rapids include Don Pasquale, Pirates of Penzance, Hansel and Gretel, Tales of Hoffmann, La Bohème, and La Traviata. Jay is a frequent adjudicator for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and holds a bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University and a master’s from Indiana University.
James Sofranko | Choreographer
James Sofranko assumed the position of Artistic Director of Grand Rapids Ballet in 2018 after an 18-year career as a soloist with the San Francisco Ballet.
Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he holds a BFA in dance from The Juilliard School in New York City.
At San Francisco Ballet, he danced in numerous works and world premieres by world-renowned choreographers including Helgi Tomasson, William Forsythe, Justin Peck, Alexi Ratmansky, Lar Lubovitch, Wayne Macgregor, Mark Morris, Yuri Possokhov, Christopher Wheeldon, Paul Taylor, Jiri Kylian, George Balanchine, and Jerome Robbins.
James also starred in the principal role of Eddie in the Broadway touring company of Movin’ Out, a musical choreographed by Twyla Tharp to the songs of Billy Joel.
Since 2018, Sofranko has created 11 original works for Grand Rapids Ballet, including a full-length production of Romeo and Juliet which premiered in February 2023 at DeVos Performance Hall with the Grand Rapids Symphony.
Under his directorship, the company’s repertoire has grown to include classical and contemporary works by some of the most sought-after choreographers working today. The dancers have come from across the United States and around the world.
He instituted a program entitled Jumpstart which encourages new choreographic talent to emerge from within the ranks of the dancers. The company also collaborates frequently with other area cultural organizations, including the Grand Rapids Symphony, Opera Grand Rapids, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
Since 2019 the company has performed annually at the amphitheater at the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.
Austin McWilliams | Assistant Conductor & Chorus Master
Austin McWilliams is a conductor and countertenor who specializes in contemporary vocal music.
He strives to present compelling, intriguing art that is directly relevant to the communities in which it is performed. Austin is the Associate Conductor and Education Director at Opera Grand Rapids, where he acts as both chorus master and head of the contemporary opera series. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Choral Studies at Western Michigan University, where he conducts the university operas and teaches several courses. He is the choir director at Fountain Street Church, a non-denominational, non-creedal institution that serves as a venue for heterodox speakers and ideologies, and is a faculty member at Missouri Scholars Academy, an annual, month-long governor’s school for gifted high school juniors in his native state. Favorite projects include Stinney: An American Execution (Frances Pollock), a world premiere opera about 14-year-old black boy George Stinney Jr. who was wrongfully convicted and executed in 1944; Our Trudy (Anna Pidgorna), a world premiere opera about the life of a small-town Kansas art teacher; and Of Rage and Remembrance (John Corigliano), a choral recital on HIV/AIDS awareness. Austin holds degrees in choral conducting and computer engineering.
Michael Baumgarten | Lighting Designer
Michael Baumgarten has designed more than a dozen productions for Opera Grand Rapids since his debut in 2016 with Romeo et Juliette.
During his 40-year career, Mr. Baumgarten has designed lighting and video for over 450 operas at regional and international companies, including Opera Carolina, Florida Grand Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Opera Lyra Ottawa, Manitoba Opera, Arizona Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Lyric Opera Kansas City, Palm Beach Opera, and Opera Columbus. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama and member of United Scenic Artists-Local 829, Mr. Baumgarten has been the Director of Production and Resident Lighting/Video Designer for Opera Carolina in Charlotte since 2005, and for Chautauqua Opera since 1999.
Erica Monroe | Costume Coordinator
Erica Monroe attended Kootenay School of the Arts in British Columbia for coursework in pattern drafting, tailoring, and advanced garment detailing.
She received her undergraduate degree in Literature from Calvin University and her masters degree in Speech Language Pathology from Grand Valley State University. She has worked for The House Theater Company and The Albany Park Theatre Project in Chicago, Illinois and Calvin University’s theater department as the costume shop manager. She has assisted as costume coordinator and head of wardrobe at OGR during productions of Cosi fan Tutti, Don Giovanni, Turandot, The Pirates of Penzance, and costume designer for Stinney: An American Execution and The Last American Hammer. Additionally, she has served as the costume designer for Grand Valley State University’s productions of A Minister’s Wife and The Importance of Being Earnest as well as the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s musical, Once on This Island.
Martha Ruskai | Wig & Makeup Designer
During Martha Ruskai’s 25-year career, she has designed more than 200 productions at more than 25 companies encompassing every area of the performing arts.
Ms. Ruskai earned a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and an M.F.A. in Theatre Design from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music. Ms. Ruskai conceived and developed the wig and makeup program at UNCSA and served as its director from its inception through 2006. Ms. Ruskai began her career working with such legendary singers as Jerome Hines, John Alexander, and Dame Joan Sutherland. Career highlights include building Bryn Terfel’s wig for his U.S. debut and designing Der Rosenkavalier with Helen Donath and Delores Zeigler. Ms. Ruskai’s professional credits as a makeup artist, wig maker, and designer include Piedmont Opera Theater, Opera Carolina, Opera Grand Rapids, Santa Fe, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Toledo, Nashville, Atlanta, and National operas; Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park; Georgia Shakespeare Festival, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, New York Concert Baroque/Concert Royal; Atlanta Ballet; and North Carolina Dance Theatre.
In addition to fashion runway work, Ms. Ruskai has styled print and TV ads for Miller Light Beer, Girbaud Clothing, IBM, and Neese’s Sausage. Film work includes historic re-enactment films for Planter’s Peanuts and the John Dickenson plantation. She has also built and styled properties wigs for the motion picture Sleeping with the Enemy, as well as building and styling wigs for several made-for-TV productions including Tecumseh!. In addition, she maintains an active guest lecturer schedule, having given master classes at Duke University, Wake Forest University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Indiana University, Colorado College, Brenau College, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Georgia State University, and the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Chong Zheng | Rehearsal Pianist
Dr. Chong Zheng is a soloist and collaborative pianist.
She received her D.M.A degree in piano performance at Michigan State University and Master of Music degree in piano performance from Indiana University Bloomington Jacobs School of Music. She is a member of the Michigan Music Teachers Association (MMTA) and the Music Teacher’s National Association (MTNA) and has been an active collaborative pianist at MSU.
Zheng is a versatile pianist whose work encompasses opera, symphony orchestra, chamber music, and song recitals. Her recent performance experiences vary from accompanying entrants to the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions to solo and collaborative performances with the Wind Symphony at Michigan State University. Zheng worked as a Music Director at Opera Iowa, a music coach for Des Moines Metro Opera, and was a pianist for the ballet department of Indiana University Bloomington, and Alma College.
Notable venues for Zheng’s performances include Cook Recital Hall in East Lansing, Wharton Center for Performing Arts Cobb Great Hall in East Lansing, and Auer Hall in Bloomington. Her performances have been broadcast on WFMT radio, Chicago.
Mark Willoughby | Technical Director
Mark has been working as a Technical Director and Production Manager for over 25 years.
Having lived in NYC for many of those years, he’s worked on productions that ranged from commercial ventures at Madison Square Garden, on Broadway, and Off-Broadway. Mark has worked with Hudson Scenic Studios building for TV, Vegas productions and museum exhibitions. After leaving the Big Apple he was TD for the theatre department at the University of Houston for two years, then moved north to TD for MSU’s Department of Theatre and the College of Music’s Opera program for 10 years. After retiring from academic life, he spends time freelancing as a TD, carpenter, rigger, and loader, but mostly enjoys fine woodworking.
Michelle Johnson | Aida
Soprano Michelle Johnson is a Grand Prize Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and “a clear audience favorite” according to the New York Times.
She has been lavished with praise for her “extraordinary breath control and flawless articulation… Her voice is velvety and pliant — a dulcet dream.” In the 2022-23 season, she makes her Nashville Opera debut as Mimi in La bohème, debuts the role of Serena in Porgy and Bess with North Carolina Opera and Opera Carolina, sings the title role of Tosca with Madison Opera, reprises the title role of Aida with Opera Grand Rapids, makes a role debut as the title role in Puccini’s Turandot with Opera Southwest, and is the soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Allentown Symphony. In 2024, Ms. Johnson will make her debut with Florentine Opera singing Mimì in La bohème.
Other recent engagements include house and role debuts with Chicago Opera Theater as Zemfira in Aleko, a featured soloist performance with Madison Symphony Orchestra, a debut with Waterbury Symphony’s Holiday Pops, and a return to Chautauqua to perform Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder with Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. During the 2020-21 season, Ms. Johnson was slated to make her Allentown Symphony, Florentine Opera, Opera on the James, and Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia debuts, but Covid-19 intervened. Instead, she joined Opera Tampa as Leonora in Il trovatore, and Opera Delaware for a concert of Shakespeare selections.
A favorite of many houses, Ms. Johnson made recent returns to Lyric Fest for I Hear America Singing, Sarasota Opera as Madame Lidoine in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, and Boston Landmark Orchestra as a soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Ms. Johnson has also made a name for herself as one of the most in-demand Aidas in the opera world today, performing Verdi’s tragic heroine with Glimmerglass Music Festival, Opera Santa Barbara, Opera Columbus, Knoxville Opera, Opera Idaho, and Sarasota Opera, among others. Ms. Johnson’s debut with the Columbus Symphony as soprano soloist in Verdi’s Requiem was highly praised, and her collaboration with Madison Opera as Santuzza in its most recent production of Cavalleria Rusticana was given rave reviews.
Carl Tanner | Radames
Carl Tanner has established an international career performing in the world’s most prestigious opera houses.
He has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, Opéra National de Paris, Washington National Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro alla Scala, Teatro Real Madrid, New National Theatre of Tokyo, and the Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona, among others. His most recent engagements include the title role in Otello with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Florestan in Fidelio with Opera North Carolina, Tucha in Ivan the Terrible with Grange Park, and Manrico in Il Trovatore with the Toledo Opera. This season he joins the Metropolitan Opera for Tosca (cover), and performs Radamès in Aida with Opera Grand Rapids.
In the 2018–2019 season, Mr. Tanner performed the title role of Verdi’s Otello at the Metropolitan Opera to great acclaim. The occasion also marked Gustavo Dudamel’s house debut. Immediately prior to this, he performed Otello at the Bolshoi Opera and Savonlinna Opera Festival. Recent engagements at the Metropolitan Opera have included Radamès in Aida, Turiddu in Cavaleria Rusticana, Canio in I Pagliacci, Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio (canceled due to COVID), Luigi in Il Tabaro (cover), Manrico (cover) in Il Trovatore, and the title role in Samson (cover).
Other notable performances include Luigi in Il Tabarro for the Royal Opera House with Maestro Antonio Pappano, Radamès with the Washington National Opera, Opera Colorado, San Diego Opera, Opera de Massy, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Canio in I Pagliacci with the Korean National Opera, Opera North Carolina, Otello with the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Opera Hong Kong and with the Royal Opera House (cover), and Calaf in Puccini’s Turandot with San Diego Opera.
Past performances include Tosca at Deutsche Oper Berlin, La Fanciulla del West at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie de Liège, Madama Butterfly at the Opéra National de Paris, Il Trovatore at the Semperoper in Dresden and at the Staatsoper in Hamburg, Turandot in Hamburg, Carmen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino under the baton of Zubin Mehta, at the Teatro alla Scala and at the Teatro San Carlo, La Gioconda in Berlin and the Teatro Real de Madrid. His Royal Opera House debut was as Cavaradossi in Tosca.
Deborah Nansteel | Amneris
“With formidable display of vocal power and dramatic assurance,” mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel is poised for international stardom.
She has already performed in almost all of the leading opera companies in the U.S. She made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera as Alisa in Lucia di Lammermoor, her debut with the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Gertrude in Roméo et Juliette, her Carnegie Hall debut in Mozart’s Coronation Mass, and her New York Philharmonic debut alongside Eric Owens in In Their Footsteps: Great African American Singers and Their Legacy. She performed the role of Mother in the world premiere of Blind Injustice with Cincinnati Opera, which will soon be commercially released on the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Fanfare Cincinnati label, and she was Raksha in Glimmerglass Opera Festival’s digital production of Jungle Book.
This season, Ms. Nansteel will return to the Metropolitan Opera as Annina in La Traviata and for their concert tour of Otello and will have her house debut with the San Francisco Opera in productions of Eugene Onegin and Dialogues of the Carmelites. Nansteel will also debut the role of Amneris in Aida for both Opera Grand Rapids and Finger Lakes Opera, perform Gertrude in Hansel and Gretel for New Orleans Opera, sing Verdi’s Requiem for Orchestra Iowa, and perform the role of Mother Abbess in Suor Angelica for Opera Omaha.
Last season, Ms. Nansteel returned to both the Metropolitan Opera as Alisa in a new production of Lucia di Lammermoor and the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Paula in Florencia en el Amazonas. Nansteel performed Azucena in Il Trovatore with Toledo Opera, Sally in Kevin Puts’ new opera The Hours with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and joined Seattle Opera in their production of Blue. In concert, she debuted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as Rossweisse in Die Walküre under Maestro Gustavo Dudamel, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Milwaukee Symphony, Finger Lakes Opera Tenth Anniversary Gala, and Hartmann’s Symphony No. 1 with the Orchestra Now at Carnegie Hall and the Fisher Center under Maestro Leon Botstein. In the spring and summer of 2021, she performed Azucena in concert performances of Il Trovatore with Opera Tampa and returned to Santa Fe Opera as Filippyevna in Eugene Onegin.
Mark Rucker | Amonasro
Mark Rucker made his debut as Renato in Un Ballo in Maschera with Luciano Pavarotti for the Opera Company of Philadelphia.
Since then, the American baritone has been in demand in opera houses and on concert stages throughout the world.
Rucker made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Amonasro in Aida and has since been heard at the Met as Don Carlo in La Forza del Destino, Tonio in I Pagliacci, and as Rigoletto for the Met in the Parks and continues to be part of the Met roster. He sang the major baritone roles in Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Traviata, Stiffelio, Aida, Il Trovatore, Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci, Samson et Dalila and Die Fliegende Holländer for companies such as Arena di Verona, Wiener Staatsoper, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Teatro Comunale, Bologna, Netherlands Opera, Greek National Opera, Opéra de Wallonie, Bregenz, Savonlinna and Santander, New York City Opera, San Diego, Florida Grand, L’Opera Montreal, and numerous other North American companies. He has worked with celebrated maestri including, Richard Bonynge, Riccardo Chailly, Fabio Luisi, Daniele Gatti, Carlo Rizzi, Gianandrea Noseda, Bruno Campanella, Paolo Arrivabeni, Willie Anthony Waters and James Meena.
Mr. Rucker made his Carnegie Hall debut to great acclaim as Don Carlo in La Forza del Destino. His other concert credits include Linda di Chamounix and Jerusalem with the Concertgebouw, and Rigoletto with the Israel and Rotterdam philharmonics. Recently he has performed Balshazzar’s Feast, Elijah, and in 2019 was the soloist for Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar.”
In 2018, he made his debut at Royal Opera House Covent Garden in the role of Paolo in Simon Boccanegra. Other recent performances include Amonasro in Aida for Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires, Opera Carolina, Macbeth for Opera Carolina, Toledo Opera, and Opera Tampa.
Recordings include Mark Rucker Sings Lena Mclin’s Songs for Voice and Piano; Amonasro in Aida for Naxos, and Cambro in Opera Ebony’s recording of Fosca by A. Carlos Gomes.
Mr. Rucker is currently a Professor of Voice at Michigan State University and in addition to an active teaching and performing career, he has been the Administrative Director for the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s celebrated Young Artist Program, Prelude to Performance, since its inception in 2005 and its Artistic Director since 2015.
Zaikuan Song | Ramfis
Zaikuan Song, operatic bass, is a native of China.
Mr. Song is a graduate of Michigan State University School of Music (DMA) and China Conservatory of Music (MM and BM) in vocal performance.
Mr. Song is recognized for his majestically resonant bass voice and for a keen dramatic instinct that he brings to a wide range of roles on the opera stage. His repertoire extends from the comic parts of Donizetti, Mozart, Puccini, and Rossini to the strong and serious roles of Verdi. Mr. Song regularly works with an illustrious array of conductors, directors, and coaches including Maestro James Meena, Maestro Marcello Cormio, Eve Summer, Ivan Stefanutti, James Marvel, Linda Brovsky, and Garnett Bruce, Coach Elden Little, and Michael Recchiuti.
Mr. Song’s notable engagements include the king in Aida, Timur in Turandot, Commendatore in Don Giovanni, Banco in Macbeth, and Sarastro in The Magic Flute. He has sung the roles of Germano in La Scala di Seta, Simone in Gianni Schicchi, Frank Maurrant in Street Scene, Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, Dulcamara in L’elisir d’amore, Mr. Emerson in A Room With a View, Changwu Ye in the Chinese Opera, The Savage Land, and Ariodate in Xerxes with MSU Opera Theater. Past season credits include leading roles with Opera Grand Rapids, Opera Carolina, Toledo Opera, Opera Southwest, MSU Opera Theatre, and concert appearances with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Gerdine Young Artist Program in 2022.
As an accomplished recitalist and concert artist, Mr. Song has been the bass soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Pacific Symphony, Handel’s Messiah with Chapel Music at Duke University, and bass soloist in Bach’s Cantat at MSU in East Lansing. He was a guest singer at Opera Carolina’s Gala, at Celebrating Music in North Carolina, and was the bass soloist at Magnificat China, a U.S.-China Art Culture Festival.
Mr. Song was awarded the top prize in the National NATS competition in the advanced college/independent studio men’s division in Las Vegas. as well as the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions 2020 Midwest Region Finalist, third prize.
Edwin Jhamal Davis | King
Basso profondo Edwin Jhamal Davis is quickly establishing himself as an artist on the rise to watch.
He has been praised by opera critic Voce di Meche for his “juicy, booming and room-filling bass” accompanied by “mesmerizing, fully-immersed acting.”
This past summer, Edwin joined San Francisco Opera’s prestigious Merola Opera Program where he performed Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, as well as excerpts from Macbeth as Banquo. In the current season, he reprises the role of Bass 2 in X: The Life & Times of Malcolm X for Opera Omaha, joins Opera Grand Rapids as the King in Aida, performs as the bass soloist in Handel’s Messiah for Danbury Symphony, and makes his Carnegie Hall debut in Verdi’s Requiem.
Previous engagements include Bass 2 in X: The Life & Times of Malcolm X for Detroit Opera, Sparafucile in Rigoletto for the Florentine Opera, the bass soloist in What Lies Beneath for On Site Opera, and Uncle Wesley in Night Trip for Portland Opera. He toured with the American Spiritual Ensemble, sang the world premiere of Brother Nat: Rise, Revolt, Redemption in the role of Will at Boston’s Paramount Theater, and was a featured soloist in the symphonic premiere of Without Regard to Sex, Race or Color, a musical work inspired by the photographic artistry of Andrew Feiler and composed by Doug Hooker, for the National Civil Rights Museum. Edwin also joined Portland Opera as a resident artist for the 2020-21 Season.
He has appeared as a guest soloist in Pompano Beach Orchestra’s presentation of Handel’s Messiah, Bronx Concert Singers’ Winter and Spring presentations, and St. Mark’s presentation of Messiah.
He was crowned the national winner for the Marian Anderson Vocal Arts Competition hosted by the National Association of Negro Musicians in its centennial celebration, is a Metropolitan Opera Eastern Region award winner, and became one of the first African Americans to claim one of the top two prizes in Opera Columbus’s Cooper-Bing International voice competition.
Sarah VandenBrink | High Priestess
Dramatic soprano Sarah Ashcroft VandenBrink is an American performer, educator, and music director.
In 2019, she completed a Doctor of Musical Arts in Vocal Performance and Literature with a minor in Vocal Pedagogy from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where she also received her Master of Music in 2014. After the completion of her DMA, she returned to Hope College, where she is currently an Assistant Professor of Voice and Head of Vocal Studies teaching applied voice lessons, music history, vocal literature, and diction courses.
Her opera credits include Madame Lidoine (Dialogues of the Carmelites), Anna Maurrant (Street Scene), Lady Billows (Albert Herring), Mrs. Grose (Turn of the Screw), and she will sing the role of Gerhilde, and cover Brünnhilde, in Die Walküre this summer in Berlin. Most recently, VandenBrink served as the vocal director of “¡Canto! A Latinx Vocal Intensive,” a program at Hope College that seeks to equip high school Latinx vocalists with resources to study and perform Latinx vocal music, and as music director of the Hope College Theatre production of Bright Star by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. As Community Engagement Director of the Holland Chorale, she is currently heading the Painted Piano Project, an initiative that blends visual and performing arts while helping make music accessible to the West Michigan community and children of all ages.
When neither singing nor teaching, Sarah can be found walking her three dogs with her husband or curating her online vintage shop.
Evan Snyder | Messenger
For composer/tenor Evan L. Snyder, opera is the intersection point at which his passions overlap.
As a student at Michigan State University and as a young artist, Evan performed leading roles in nearly a dozen shows, including Pirates of Penzance, A Little Night Music, Susannah, and West Side Story, before going on to make his professional debut with Shreveport Opera as Howard Boucher in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. Since moving back to Michigan to pursue composition full-time, Evan has sung occasional roles with such Michigan opera companies as Opera MODO and West Michigan Opera Project, and has sung with the OGR Chorus for its last three productions. As a composer of (mostly) vocal music, Evan’s works have been heard all over the country, commissioned and performed by such organizations as Opera Las Vegas, Chicago Opera Theater, Fort Worth Opera, and Opera MODO, and such artists as Tamara Wilson, Eric Ferring, Richard Fracker, and many more.
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For refunds, please note the following:
- Tickets must be refunded at the original point of purchase. The Box Office is NOT authorized to refund tickets that were NOT purchased at the Opera Grand Rapid’s Box Office.
- If the tickets were purchased directly through the Ticketmaster website, by charge-by-phone or mobile options, you may contact Ticketmaster’s Customer Service number at 800-653-8000.
- If the tickets were purchased at a Ticketmaster Retail Outlet location, please call 866-498-4647.
QUESTIONS? Please contact the Opera Grand Rapids Box Office at 616.451.2741
Casting, repertoire and event details are subject to change without notice or refunds, but are specified in good faith as accurate and updated accordingly. Refunds not accepted.
Opera Grand Rapids does not control or endorse 3rd party resellers.