Austin McWilliams | Conductor
Austin McWilliams, conductor and countertenor, strives to present compelling, intriguing music that is directly relevant to the communities in which it is performed.
He is the Associate Conductor and Director of Music Education at Opera Grand Rapids, where he acts as both chorus master and head of the contemporary opera series dedicated to marginalized communities. In 2022 he will conduct the world premiere of Frances Pollock’s Stinney about George Stinney, a 14-year-old black boy who was wrongfully convicted and executed in 1944. Austin is also an Adjunct Professor of Choral Studies at Western Michigan University, where he conducts the university operas and choral ensembles 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 radical speakers and ideologies, and is Co-Artistic Director of the Ad Astra Music Festival, a classical music festival in Russell, Kansas, known for its innovative and unique programming. In 2021 at Ad Astra he conducted the world premiere of Anna Pidgorna’s new opera Our Trudy about the life of a local art teacher. He is a course developer at Mizzou Academy and a faculty member at Missouri Scholars Academy, an annual, month-long governor’s school for gifted high school juniors in his native state. In 2019, Austin earned a Master of Music degree in choral conducting at WMU under Kimberly Dunn Adams. There he designed a recital on HIV/AIDS awareness in collaboration with several community organizations, and he earned the School of Music Graduate Award for Excellence in Teaching. Austin graduated in 2017 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering.
Naimah Kisoki | Stage Director
Naimah Kisoki is a native of New York City and began her professional career as a ballerina.
She trained at The New Ballet School under the Direction of Elliot Feld. In 1997 she became a founding member and the and the first African American ballerina to perform with Feld’s Ballet Tech. Her professional credits include Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Gazelle national touring cast of the Broadway production The Lion King, American Repertory Ballet, Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico, Collage Dance Collective and Urban Ballet Theater as a guest artist. Mrs. Kisoki has performed neo-classical choreography by George Balanchine including: The Four Temperaments, Serenade, Concerto Barocco, Agon and Apollo. She has danced the work of other notable choreographers including Sir Frederic Franklin, Geoffrey Holder, David Parsons and Michael Smuin.
Her television credits include The South Bank Show 2004 (UK) and CBS’s “Fashion Rocks” 2007 performance with recording artist Rihanna. She has also performed with recording artists Luis Miguel and Missy Eliot in music videos and print.
Additionally, Mrs. Kisoki has presented work for Duke University (Durham, NC), Sacramento State University of California (Sacramento, CA), Hollins University (Roanoke, VA), Charlotte Ballet’s Pre-Professional Division (Charlotte, NC), Open Door Dance Studios (Charlotte, NC) and North West School of the Arts (Charlotte NC).
Mrs. Kisoki has earned a Master of Fine Arts degree through Hollins University, and Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Mary’s College. She is currently the Movement coach for Opera Carolina’s I Dream.
Moníka Essen | Set & Projection Designer
Moníka Essen is an award winning, nationally recognized artist and designer.
The recipient of the prestigious Lawrence DeVine Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theatre, she studied Interior Architecture and Environmental Design at Parsons School of Design NYC and received her MFA in Scenography from the renowned Hilberry Repertory Co. Ms. Essen has designed over 300 productions in theatre, opera and film, and is currently the Resident Designer at the Michigan Opera Theatre where she has just recently designed their highly acclaimed productions of Frida and Bliss. She has also designed for the Atlanta Opera, Florida Grand Opera and Cincinnati Opera. Some local favorite productions include Murder Ballad and American Hero at Detroit Public Theatre and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Impossibility of Now and A Christmas Carol at Tipping Point Theatre. Moníka is delighted to make her design debut with Opera Grand Rapids. Additionally, she creates art, furniture, museum exhibits, interiors and full sensory, multi-media environments for residential and commercial clients, including the Detroit Zoo. All her design work can be viewed at www.studioepoque.com.
Sarah Riffle | Lighting Designer
Sarah Riffle is currently in her fourth season as an Assistant Lighting Designer with Lyric Opera Chicago.
Some of her most recent shows include L’Elisir D’Amore (Lyric Opera Chicago), The Jigsaw Bride (First Folio Theater), The Queen of Spades (Des Moines Metro Opera), La Hija de Rappaccini (Chicago Opera Theater), and The Three Queens (Lyric Opera Chicago). Sarah has designed and worked for such companies as Tribeca Performing Arts Center, New York City Opera, and The New York Botanical Garden, Chatauqua Opera, Joffrey Ballet, Urban Arias in DC, BalletMet Columbus and Opera Orlando. All her work can be seen at slriffledesign.com.
Erica Monroe | Costume Designer
Erica Monroe received her undergraduate degree in Literature from Calvin University and her masters degree in Speech Language Pathology from Grand Valley University.
She attended Kootenay School of the Arts in British Columbia for coursework in pattern drafting, tailoring, and advanced garment detailing. She has worked for The House Theater Company and The Albany Park Theatre Project in Chicago, Illinois. She managed the costume shop at Calvin University here in Grand Rapids, teaching sewing skills and theater production to students. She has assisted as costume coordinator and head of wardrobe at OGR during productions of Cosi fan Tutti and Don Giovanni and is thrilled to design her first production on Stinney.
Kaitlyn Horpedahl | Props Designer
Kaitlyn recently relocated to Michigan, and this is her first production with Opera Grand Rapids.
Caitlin Hart | Intimacy Coordinator
Caitlin Hart (she/her) is an intimacy choreographer based in Grand Rapids, MI.
She holds a B.A in Theatre Arts from Aquinas College and completed the Atlantic Theater Company’s Professional Acting Conservatory in NYC. She is certified as an ‘Intimacy Captain’, in Mental Health First Aid and has Bystander Intervention training. In addition to her practical experience in the field, she attends on-going professional training workshops with Theatrical Intimacy Education to strengthen and expand her knowledge of best practices in the growing field. She has choreographed intimacy for productions such as Shakespeare in Love (Grand Rapids Civic Theatre), The Sound Of Music (Grand Rapids Civic Theatre). Romeo and Juliet (Broadway World 2018 Best Play Nominee), Macbeth (Broadway World 2017 Best Play Nominee), Maria Irene Fornes’ What of the Night? (West Coast Premiere; Best Acting Ensemble Ovation Nominee), Tommy Smith’s White Hot (LA Premiere; Hollywood Fringe Best in Ensemble Theatre Winner) and more. She would like to thank Opera Grand Rapids for championing a consent-based process. You can learn more about her work at caitlinhartdirector.com
Michael Empson | Fight Coordinator
Michael is a professional theatre artist based in Grand Rapids, MI.
He has performed with theater, opera, and ballet companies across the country. A member of the Society of American Fight Directors, the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, and member of the Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium, Michael is active as an actor, teaching artist, fight choreographer, and coach throughout West Michigan.
Past fight choreography credits include Henry IV Part 1, Rome and Juliet (Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Co.), A Flea in Her Ear (Southern Colorado Rep), Romeo and Juliet (Boca Ballet), King Lear (Grand Valley State University), Two Gentlemen of Verona (Florida Atlantic University), Hamlet (Calvin College), and three years performing with and coordinating violence for the Museum Theater Department at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia.
He is currently working on a one person show with Left/Right Productions here in Grand Rapids that will open in May. Michael will also be joining the production team for Grand Rapids Circle Theatre’s production of The Play That Goes Wrong as the fight/stunt choreographer, in addition to teaching in their Master Workshop series.
Tina Gorter | Pianist
Tina Gorter, collaborative pianist, has served as a staff pianist at Western Michigan University since 2006.
There, she collaborates with faculty members, guest artists, and numerous students for performances. Significant collaborative endeavors include performances with Catherine Walker Adams, Rhea Olivaceé, Kimberly Dunn Adam, and Rollo Dilworth. In addition to her position at WMU, she currently serves as the pianist for the Southwest Michigan Vocal Festival, Kalamazoo Men’s Chorus, Opera Grand Rapids, and frequently appears with the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra and Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra as a guest pianist. Aside from her work on the concert stage, she enjoys working with young musicians, and has served as a collaborative pianist and music director/vocal coach for the opera scenes program at Interlochen Center for the Arts Camp. She has also served on faculty for SEMINAR, WMU’s high school summer music camp.
She is currently pursuing a DMA in Collaborative Piano at Michigan State University studying with Zhihua Tang and Deborah Moriarty. She holds a Master of Music degree in Piano Performance with an emphasis in Collaborative Performance from Western Michigan University under the direction of Lori Sims and Dr. Silvia Roederer and undergraduate degree from the University of Montana where she studied with Steven Hesla.
Chasiti Lashay | Alma Stinney
Chasiti was a finalist in the Dallas Opera Competition in October 2021 and a Metropolitan Opera MONC finalist of 2020. This past summer, Chasiti was a young artist at Chautauqua opera where she performed the the self-titled role of and “Soprano” in the company developed piece As the Cosi Crumbles which explored the world of fachs, singing even Nadir in the Pearl Fisher’s duet. She also participated in Chautauqua Opera’s 2020 virtual Opera Invasion doing virtual performances and masterclasses. Chasiti was announced as a finalist in the 2020 Tri-Cities Opera TCO Next virtual competition where she was the second place winner. She has performed the role of Primadonna in the Prologue of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, Suor Angelica in Puccini’s Suor Angelica and covered the role of Countess in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. She has also performed the following partial roles: Countess from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme, Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello, Cleopatra in Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, Mère Marie in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, Blanche in Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and Arabella in Strauss’ Arabella. Chasiti earned her Postgraduate diploma in May 2020 and Master of Music in Voice from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in May 2019 and completed her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at Tuskegee University in 2014.
Daniel Sampson | George Stinney, Sr.
Praised by the New Orleans Times-Picayune for his “strong and moving performance,” tenor Daniel E. Sampson sings with inspiration and vigor.
Recent stage appearances include Rinnucio in Peabody Opera’s Gianni Schicchi, George Stinney, Sr. in Stinney: An American Execution at the Prototype New Opera Festival, Georgio in the world premiere of Briscula the Magician with Bel Cantanti Opera, and Monostatos in Loyola Opera’s The Magic Flute. He also sang with the New Orleans Opera Chorus for five seasons. This season, Sampson reprises his role as George Stinney, Sr. in Opera Grand Rapids’ production of Stinney: An American Execution and will sing the role of Poisson in Baltimore Concert Opera’s Adriana Lecouvreur. He is also a member of the Baltimore Concert Opera’s Educational Cohort.
Concert performances include Schubert’s Mass in G Major, Saint-Saëns’ Oratorio de Noël, Vivaldi’s Magnificat, and Bernstein’s Mass conducted by Marin Alsop—which was featured in the documentary, “The Conductor” at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
A passionate educator and director, Daniel has taught at all levels of music education from early childhood to the collegiate level. Sampson was the 2018 winner of the Interplay Teaching Artist Residency at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is also a founding member and Creative Director of the International Florence Price Festival.
Daniel received the Bachelor of Music Education and Voice from Loyola University New Orleans and the Master of Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.
Carter Dillet | George Stinney, Jr.
This is Carter Dillet’s debut with Opera Grand Rapids.
He has been a part of some music performances for school. He is a 7th grader and attends Northview Public Schools where he is also a member of NJHS.
Carter loves the arts and always has. He has played the piano and continues to take lessons privately with David Yandl and has since the age of 7. Carter is also a member of the Grand Rapids Choir of Men and Boys where he performs as a Senior Chorister.
Carter is extremely excited to be part of this production for many reasons, but the two most important would be to tell the story of George Stinney, Jr. and to be able to showcase his talents.
Alyssa Toepfer | Jean Binnicker
Alyssa Toepfer has been praised as a soprano with “unbridled dexterity” (Kansas City Star) and a “marvelous, soaring tone” (KC Metropolis).
Upcoming stage credits include Mariane (Tartuffe) with Landlocked Opera and the soprano soloist in Benjamin Boyle’s Cantata No. 1 with the Midwest Chamber Orchestra. Recent engagements include Musetta (La bohème) with Opera180, Littler Zegner Sister (Proving Up, Missy Mazzoli) with the Ad Astra Music Festival, and originated the role of Dora in the world premiere of “Our Trudy,” also with the Ad Astra Music Festival.
In 2014, Ms. Toepfer earned international acclaim in her first pants role as Jemmy in Wichita Grand Opera’s production of Guillaume Tell. Opera News called her “a convincing Jemmy both musically and dramatically” while a reviewer from the German Rossini Society praised her as “a superb Jemmy… she acted as well as she sang.”
A highlight of Ms. Toepfer’s 2012-2013 season was performing Pamina alongside internationally renowned bass Samuel Ramey’s Sarastro in Opera South Dakota’s 10th anniversary production of Die Zauberflöte under the baton of Maestro Delta David Gier with the South Dakota Symphony.
Additional roles include Gretel (Hӓnsel und Gretel) with Opera Omaha, Zerlina (Don Giovanni) with Lawrence Opera Theatre, Adele (Die Fledermaus) with Opera South Dakota, Wanda (The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein) with Wichita Grand Opera, Princess/#1 in Conrad Susa’s Transformations with Kansas City Civic Opera, Lauretta (Gianni Schicchi)with Opera South Dakota, Adina (l’Elisir d’amore) and Fiordiligi (Cosi fan tutte), both with UMKC Opera, Norina (Don Pasquale), and Mabel (Pirates of Penzance).
Her concert soloist engagements include Mozart’s Requiem, Poulenc’s Gloria, Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, and Vivaldi’s Gloria. As a choral musician, she sings with The Missouri Choral Artists, Prometheus, and the Grammy award-winning Kansas City Chorale.
Ms. Toepfer is a regional finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Born and raised in Sioux Falls, SD, she completed a Bachelor of Arts in Music at Augustana University and a Master of Music in Voice at The University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. She is currently based in Kansas City, MO, where she teaches voice at Benedictine College.
Evan André | Betty June Binnicker
This is Evan André’s debut with Opera Grand Rapids.
Previous roles include Gretl (The Sound of Music), Cousin IT (The Addams Family), Munchkin (The Wizard of OZ), Children’s Chorus (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), and Urchin (Les Miserables) all at Hudsonville High School.
Evan is an 8th Grader in Hudsonville Public Schools and has always loved to sing. She studies privately with Karen Ambs Vocal Music Studio in Hudsonville. Evan enjoys singing in her school choir and playing flute in band. She also studies private piano and dances at Ohana School of Dance.
Evan is honored to have an opportunity to tell this important story of George Stinney. She is also grateful to Opera Grand Rapids for allowing her to be a part of such a distinguished musical collaboration.
Lily Belle Czartorski | Barbara Thames
Lily Belle is thrilled to return to Grand Rapids following her recent role as Elder Constance in Matthew Aucoin’s Second Nature performed with Opera Grand Rapids last spring
Lily Belle is an award winning, highly sought-after musician and performer. She is known to create unforgettable, outside of the box performances. (You should check out her Carmen on Roller Skates). Czartorski has captivated audiences spanning both Opera and Musical Theater. In addition to performances with Opera Grand Rapids, she embarked in several engagements with the Ringwald Theater in Ferndale, Michigan. The All-encompassing musician’s recent engagements include being a featured soloist on a jazz album with the Scott Gwinell Jazz orchestra, as well as the world premiere of “Our Trudy” with the Ad Astra Music Festival in Russel, Kansas. Lily Belle’s thrilling performances have landed her great success with vocal competitions. She placed third and won the audience choice award in the Opera Grand Rapids National Collegiate Vocal competition (2020), placed second in the Charleston International Competition (2020), winner of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra Concerto and Aria Competition (2019) and winner of the rising stars category of the Opera Modo Detroit Aria Competition (2018).
Lily Belle attended Oakland University for degrees in both Vocal Performance and Music Education. There, she appeared in the roles of Mere Marie (Dialogues Des Carmelites), Anna Marrant (Street Scene), Nancy (Martha) and First Lady (Die Zauberflöte).
Her upcoming engagements this spring include La Bohème with Michigan Opera Theater and chorus in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Emmie Pratt | Mary Emma Thames
Stinney: An American Execution is Emmie Pratt’s first opera performance.
She found her interest in singing and acting at age 6 in a church performance group. Since her early beginnings in music, she has sung with various choral ensembles at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY, Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík, Iceland, and the DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, MI.
Emmie currently sings with the Girls Choral Academy in Grand Rapids. She is a junior at Byron Center High School where she is dual enrolled in Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art and Design.
Branden Hood | Reverend Williams
This past summer worked with Michigan Opera Theatre as the Vocal Coach for the Teen Opera Remix and is also a lecturer at Wayne State University. He has worked with The Lyric Opera Studio of Weimar, Germany on scholarship to perform Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni in Don Giovanni, and Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor. He has also performed with Detroit’s own OperaModo as Ford in Falstaff, John Sorel in The Consul, and as Barnaba in La Gioconda.
Mr. Hood has performed with MOT: Community Programs in I Too Sing America, and Pizza con Funghi. In 2014, he received The Angel Scholarship from MOT to attend AIMS in Graz, Austria. He was awarded The Encouragement Awarded in 2010 during the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition: Michigan District and The Mario LanzaFoundation. He has been a young artist at The Pine Music Festival, The Martina Arroyo Foundation, Dayton Opera and Opera Saratoga. And received the Presser Award during his undergrad at The Boston Conservatory and attended The University of Michigan receiving his Masters and Special Degrees.
Andrew Hann | Jimmy Smith
Andrew Hann (he/him) is a piano and voice teacher, singer, pianist, and yoga practitioner based in unceded Piscataway land colonized as Baltimore, Maryland.
He specializes in creating brave spaces for students to develop and explore what interests them. In addition to offering singing and piano lessons, he offers gender affirming voice care for trans and non-binary folx to help discover their authentic voice which aligns with their identity.
As a performer, Andrew has demonstrated his versatility by appearing on stage as a vocalist, harpsichordist, and pianist. He holds Masters of Music degrees in both Early Music Voice and Harpsichord Performance (2015) from Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University and a BM in Voice Performance from Shenandoah Conservatory. Favorite roles include Arnalta in L’incoronazione di Poppea, Orphée in La descente d’Orphée aux enfers, Pane in La Calisto, and Jimmy Smith in the 2014 premiere of Frances Pollock’s social justice opera Stinney.
When he is not teaching or performing, he enjoys spending time with his boyfriend Eric, and their two cats, Annie and Rupert. In his free time, he loves cooking and baking, hiking, traveling, and grocery shopping!
Dominic Aragon | Ed Wall
Dominic Aragon is a native of Wichita, Kansas. He currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio where he is a chorister at the historic Old Stone Church in downtown Cleveland.
Mr. Aragon recently completed an Artist Diploma in Voice Performance at the University of Colorado–Boulder. While living in the Front Range, he performed concert works by Handel, Mozart, Bruckner, Poulenc, Saint-Saëns, Faure, and Claussen with various ensembles and sang as a chorister with the Colorado Bach Ensemble and the Boulder Bach Festival. He has also enjoyed performing roles including Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro, Onegin in Eugene Onegin, Bernardo in West Side Story, Yamadori in Madama Butterfly, Fredrik in A Little Night Music, Falke in Die Fledermaus, Escamillo in The Tragedy of Carmen, and Nardo in La Finta Giardinera. As a resident artist with the Ad Astra Music Festival, Mr. Aragon premiered the role of Narrator in Anna Pigdorna’s Our Trudy and performed the role of Pa in Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up. He recently performed the role of Luis Garzón in Reinaldo Moya’s chamber opera, Tienda, at Augsburg University in Minneapolis and Bonobo/David in Matthew Aucoin’s Second Nature with Opera Grand Rapids. This summer, Mr. Aragon will attend Tanglewood Music Festival as a resident artist in the Vocal Arts program.
Joshua Dennis | Dean Clarkson
Known for his “voluptuous elegant tone,” and a “robust tenor with baritonal heft,” American lyric tenor Joshua Dennis is a star on the rise.
Last season, Mr. Dennis—a champion of new works—had the honor of originating two roles: “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in Minnesota Opera’s world premiere production of The Fix, and Prince Frederic in Poul Ruders’ The Thirteenth Child with the Santa Fe Opera. Additionally, he was heard in Huang Rou’s Paradise Interrupted at the MGM Grand in Macau, and was the host of Santa Fe Opera’s virtual event Songs from the Santa Fe Opera in place of their opening night event. Additionally, he saw performances as Leonard in the world premiere of Nadia Boulanger’s La ville morte with Catapult Opera.
In the 2021-2022 season, Mr. Dennis creates two roles: Marc in the world premiere of Huang Ruo and David Henry Huang’s M. Butterfly with the Santa Fe Opera, and Dean Clarkson in the world premiere of Stinney: An American Execution with Opera Grand Rapids. He also makes his role debut as Don Jos in Carmen with Opera Idaho, performs Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni with Opera San Antonio, and sings the title role in Albert Herring at The Princeton Festival.
Last year, Mr. Dennis was heard as Theodore Billings in Arizona Opera’s filmed production of the world premiere of Clint Borzoni and John de los Santos’s production, The Copper Queen, released in autumn 2021. He also appeared with Arizona Opera reprising the role of Bern Venters in the world premiere of Riders of the Purple Sage. Additional highlights of recent seasons include performances of Roméo in Roméo et Juliette with Minnesota Opera and Utah Opera, where he was also heard as Greenhorn in Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick; Alfredo in La traviata with Seattle Opera, Opera Columbus, and Opera Idaho, where he also performed the title role of Werther; the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto with Minnesota Opera and Dayton Opera; Jaquino in Beethoven’s Fidelio with the Santa Fe Opera and the Houston Symphony; and title role of Faust with Opera San Antonio and Annapolis Opera. Additional performances include Ferrando in Così fan tutte with Charlottesville Opera and Opera Naples and Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail with Kentucky Opera and New Orleans Opera.
On the concert stage, Joshua Dennis has performed as soloist in Handel’s Messiah with the Santa Fe Symphony and the Las Vegas Philharmonic, Beethoven’s Mass in C with the Phoenix Symphony, and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde as the first tenor soloist to sing at the XXI Festival International de Piano en Blanco & Negro in Mexico. Additionally, he was a soloist in Dubois’ Les sept paroles du Christ and performed the role of Tony in Opera Idaho’s concert version of West Side Story.
Mr. Dennis has held apprenticeships with Des Moines Metro Opera and Santa Fe Opera, where for two consecutive summers he performed the role of Serrano in La donna del lago and covered the roles of Elemer in Arabella, Alfredo in La traviata, and Frank Harris in the world premiere of Oscar. In 2018, Mr. Dennis was the only tenor to represent the USA in Placido Domingo’s Operalia Competition in Astana, Kazakhstan. Additionally, he was a finalist of the Metropolitan Opera Competition at the regional level.
Mr. Dennis earned his Bachelor and Master of Music degree from Stephen F. Austin State University. While in attendance, he sang the roles of Alfredo in La traviata, Sam in Susannah, and Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus.
Stephen West | Frank Spearman/Judge Matthews
In a long and distinguished career, bass-baritone Stephen West has appeared with many of the finest opera companies in the world.
Highlights include the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, the Bayreuth, Salzburg and Santa Fe Festivals, Opéra National de Paris, Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, and with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York City Opera, Opera Colorado, the San Francisco, Seattle, Washington and Dallas operas among many others. He has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston, Atlanta, and Montreal Symphonies and the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood and the Hollywood Bowl. He has also collaborated with many world-famous conductors, including Riccardo Muti, Sir Andrew Davis, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Sir Charles MacKerras, Julius Rudel, Michael Gielen, James Levine and Richard Bonynge.
Stephen West is currently Professor of Music and former Chair of the Voice Department in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance at the University of Michigan. His students are successful in both opera and musical theater and have appeared in opera houses in the United States, Canada and Europe, in major music festivals and are currently appearing on Broadway and National Tours. They have been awarded scholarships to young artist programs and conservatories, and have won major national and international vocal competitions.
A true “singing actor,” Stephen West triumphs in roles such as Boito’s Mefistofele and Gounod’s Méphistophélès, and as the heroes of Verdi. He is an exponent of contemporary music, and excels in the repertoire of Wagner. His Seattle Opera portrayal of Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg inspired Bryan Magee of London’s Daily Telegraph to write, “He covered himself with glory. At the end the entire audience rose spontaneously in a standing ovation. I suspect it was one of those special nights of which I shall find myself saying on future occasions: ‘I was there.'”
Prof. West has starred in over forty musicals, including such roles as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Javert in Les Misérables (Encore Musical Theatre Co.), Miguel de Cervantes in Man of La Mancha and Billy Bigelow in Carousel. He appeared as Emile de Becque with the Denver Center Theater Company and his portrayal of Charlie Anderson in Shenandoah at San Diego Civic Light Opera earned the Critics Award for “best actor in a musical” from Drama-Logue magazine.
Kohl Weisman | Bill Martin
There, he performs; offers voice, piano, and guitar lessons at the Jenison Academy of Music; and makes music for video games and film. Kohl graduated from Yale College studying Chinese and Literary Translation, and he got his start in opera with Yale Baroque Opera Project’s restorations of works by Cavalli with credits including the title role in L’Egisto, Arsamene in Xerse, and Plutone in Orfeo. He is currently working on music and story for the mobile game Kryptomon and is collaborating with neoclassical Chinese poet Lizi on a song cycle.
Kisma Jordan | Female Soloist 1
As an innovator in the musical world, Kisma Jordan strives to increase the diversity of classical music and opera.
A classically-trained opera singer, composer, and educator, Kisma is distinctly aware of the power of her voice, not only as an instrument but also as a vehicle to affect change. She is an artist that values authenticity and justice and owns the truth of her vocal gift and its connection to her life’s work and purpose.
As a child, Kisma recognized her passion for music early on. Her vocal gift and appreciation for classical and opera developed in high school, becoming the foundation for her collegiate music education. Kisma holds multiple degrees in vocal performance, including a Bachelor of Music from Kentucky State University, a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the College of Musical Arts at Bowling Green State University, and a Graduate Performance Degree in Opera from The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. During her vocal studies, which started at age fourteen, she received training from renowned voice teachers, including Metropolitan Opera soprano Myra Merritt and Ruth Golden
Kisma has delivered stunning performances on some of the most prestigious opera stages across the country. Previous seasons have included appearances with Michigan Opera, Annapolis Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago in Porgy and Bess (Clara cover), and the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric in The Rake’s Progress as Anne Trulove. More recent solo features include Home for the Holidays with the Detroit Symphony, Mahler’s Symphony no. 4 with the Jackson Symphony, and Barber’s Summer of Knoxville: 1915 with the Warren Philharmonic.
A consummate professional dedicated to perfecting her craft, Kisma has received many prestigious awards and accolades throughout her career. She was a top prize winner in the Soma International Foundation’s Lois Alba Aria Competition. She also captured 1st Prize in both Opera Theater of Pittsburgh’s Mildred Miller International Vocal Competition and the National Opera Association’s Carolyn Bailey and Dominick Argento Vocal Competition. Among other awards are the Harold Haugh Light Opera Vocal Competition (1st Prize), Fritz and Lavinia Jensen Foundation (2nd Prize), The Cleveland Foundation (A. Grace Lee Mims Vocal Scholarship Award), and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (National Semifinalist, 1st place Great Lakes Region).
Upon winning her first professional fellowship, the Kresge Artist Fellowship in Music, she discovered an opportunity to have more creative control by creating something innovative and authentic. Through The OperaSOUL Experience, Kisma merges the classical and operatic music that she loves with popular music’s catchy beats and rhythms. She believes that neither opera nor pop is a limited genre. When merged, they create a new genre of music that is accessible to modern audiences and a broader platform for skilled, versatile vocalists. Kisma’s work with OperaSoul pushes the boundaries of contemporary art by presenting artistic expression in unconventional ways.
In recognition of the phenomenal success of Kisma’s OperaSoul project, the Knight Foundation awarded her the Knight Arts Challenge grant in 2017. This grant has enabled her to pave new ways to build equity and accessibility for the opera and classical music industries. With a dedication to integrated racial representation in art, Kisma believes that opera, in particular, is an ideal medium for essential discussions around race and inclusion. She is committed to working with others to usher in a multi-racial operatic renaissance.
Victoria Korovljev | Female Soloist 2
Victoria Korovljev is an aspiring soprano from Detroit, Michigan.
Her most current engagements include performing the roles of Frasquita and Gretel, as well as being a semi-finalist in the American Prize Competition for Women in Opera. Before the shutdown, Victoria took part in the workshops and premiering ensemble for Minnesota Opera’s newest production, Edward Tulane.
A recipient of the Harvey Berkening Fellowship and College of Liberal Arts Merit Award, she completed her Masters of Music at the University of Minnesota, where she studied with Professor Adriana Zabala. In 2019, she sang First Wood Sprite in Rusalka as well as Mimí in Puccini’s La Bohème, Act 3. Victoria looks forward to the coming years and discovering her developing artistry. Passionate about teaching, she enjoys sharing opera with children and helping others to find their true voice.
Avalon Cutts-Jones | Female Soloist 3
Avalon Cutts-Jones is a Grand Rapids, MI native who comes from two musical families.
Under their influence her love for music was birthed. Avalon is known for her vocal versatility performing different genres such as R&B, gospel, Neo-soul, and classical. Earning her BM as a vocal performance major at Grand Valley State University, she has had the opportunity to be the special music for the 2019 commencement ceremony at Van Andel Arena as well as the Inauguration of GVSU’s first female President Philomena V. Mantella. Avalon had her first role with Opera Grand Rapids in Matthew Aucoin’s opera Second Nature. She has also played the role of Rosa Parks in Douglas Tappin’s opera I Dream with Toledo Opera and Opera Carolina in 2018 and 2021 productions.
Avalon Cutts-Jones Music can be found performing throughout the Midwest. ‘A choir girl with quartet roots who loves jazz harmonies while performing classical with a Neo-soul vibe. Meet Avalon’
Kaswanna Kanyinda | Female Soloist 4
Mezzo-soprano, Kaswanna Kanyinda, has been praised for her dramatic presence, vocal warmth, and as a “talent to keep a sharp lookout for.”
In the height of the pandemic lockdown, she played the role of Flosshilde in Michigan Opera Theatre’s Twilight: Gods. In 2019, Kaswanna won a Wilde Award for her performance as the Mother in Opera MODO’s production of The Consul. Prior to that, Kaswanna joined Pittsburgh Festival Opera as a member of their 2018 Mastersingers Program, won the Opera Guild of Charlotte competition in 2017, and earned her masters’ degree in 2016 from the University of Michigan, under the tutelage of George Shirley. There she was featured in the workshop premiere of Bright Sheng’s The Dream of the Red Chamber and was honored to represent Michigan in performance at the Kennedy Center. During her undergraduate studies at UNC Chapel Hill, she was cast in La Clemenza di Tito, Highway #1 USA, and Gianni Schicchi, and had the opportunity to perform the national anthem for President Barack Obama. A North Carolina native, she currently resides in the Detroit area, and studies with Dr. Louise Toppin. She will be playing the role of Girlfriend #3 in Toledo Opera’s production of Blue and will be joining Spoleto Festival for the world premiere of Omar, an opera by Rhiannon Giddens.
Schyler Sheltrown | Female Soloist 5
Known for her plush voice and incredible acting chops, lyric soprano Schyler Sheltrown has garnered international acclaim.
Her performance as Jin Zi in The Savage Land, sung entirely in Mandarin, was hailed as ‘one of the best Jin Zi’s ever seen’ by China Today. As dynamic online as she is onstage, Schyler uses her social media presence to further educate the general public about opera. Despite Covid-19 complications, she was able to spend this past summer with Pittsburgh Festival Opera, putting together the film version of Mark Adamo’s Lysistrata. She also performed in a YouTube version of The Pearl Fishers with Kor Productions, singing the heroine Leïla. Schyler is honored to join Opera Grand Rapids in their world premiere of Stinney: An American Execution.
Alexandra Galla | Female Soloist 6
A native of Traverse City, Alexandra has been performing with Opera Grand Rapids for three seasons as a chorus member in Don Giovanni (2021), La Traviata (2019), and The Magic Flute (2018). In 2019 she made her debut as Pitti-Sing in the company’s production of The Mikado and in 2018 was the winner of Opera Grand Rapids’ Collegiate Vocal Competition. Alexandra is a graduate of Western Michigan University’s School of Music (2018), and with the university performed roles in a variety of operatic productions including Le Nozze di Figaro, The Beautiful Bridegroom, and An Embarrassing Position. Alexandra also has solo experience in sacred works including Verdi’s Magnificat and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and cantatas 4 & 112. Alexandra now works full-time on the Opera Grand Rapids staff as the Box Office and Development Manager.
Darius Gillard | Male Soloist 1
Tenor Darius Gillard is steadily gaining momentum on regional operatic circuits.
Praised for his warm legato and thoughtful interpretation, he excels in the lyric repertoire. To date, he has appeared in principal, supporting, and comprimario roles with companies that include the Michigan Opera Theatre, Opera Carolina, Connecticut Lyric Opera, Arbor Opera Theatre, Capitol Opera Raleigh, and Hartford Opera Theatre. An avid interpreter of contemporary opera, he has performed and created roles in new works that include Double Duty Ratcliffe in Daniel Sonenberg’s The Summer King (Michigan Opera Theatre), John Lewis in Douglas Tappan’s I Dream (Opera Carolina/Charlottesville Opera), and Alex in David Wolfson’s trilogy of Zoom Operas (Hartford Opera Theatre). He has also made appearances with the Florence Civic Orchestra, Charleston Chamber Orchestra, Flint Symphony Orchestra, and the Detroit Festival Camerata as a featured soloist in various oratorio works that include Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore, Händel’s Messiah, Saint-Saëns’ Oratorio de Noël, and Mozart’s Requiem in D minor. Equally at home on the concert stage, he looks forward to exploring and performing repertoire on the topics of love and justice in recitals scheduled to be given at various academic institutions this season.
Jon Lovegrove | Male Soloist 2
He’s performed such roles as the 2nd Priest/2nd Man in Armor (The Magic Flute), tenor soloist in Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Shem (Noah’s Flood), and Remendado (Carmen), along with numerous productions as a member of the chorus. In recent years, Jon has performed with West Michigan Opera Project as Sam (Susannah) and the Baroque on Beaver music festival as the tenor soloist for Mozart’s Requiem. Other performances have been with GVSU Opera Theatre as Rinuccio (Gianni Schicchi), Kent Philharmonic Orchestra as Rodolfo (La Bohème), 2nd Act Opera as Timothy (Help, Help, the Globolinks!), and Shadblow Theatre as Mr. Bumble (Oliver! In Concert) and Ewart Dunlop (The Music Man). His upcoming performances are with West Michigan Opera Project as Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) and the Holland Symphony Orchestra as the tenor soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
Clayton Mathews | Male Soloist 3
American Baritone Clayton Mathews, a native of St. Louis, Missouri has been praised for his rich colorful tone and profound character interpretations.
In 2005, he won the South Florida Chapter National Association of Teachers of Singing competition. He has performed professionally in opera companies across the United States and Europe. Mr. Mathews’ most distinguished roles include Don Giovanni (Don Giovanni) Tarquinius (The Rape of Lucretia) Frederic (Lakme) Voltaire/Pangloss (Candide), Escamillo (Carmen), Amonasro (Aida), and Don Alfonso/Gugliermo (Cosi Fan Tutte) Count Ceprano (Rigoletto), Crown and the Undertaker (Porgy and Bess). His musical theatre roles include Javert (Les Miserable) and Agwe (Once on this Island). He premiered the role of The Maker in Fredric Chaslin’s Opera Clarimonde for On Site Opera/Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice. Mr. Mathews brought to life “Mike” in George Gershwin’s opera Blue Monday at the legendary Cotton Club for On Site Opera/Harlem Opera Theatre. He has also performed in many concert galas with the Miami Symphony Orchestra, ConcertOPERA Philadelphia, Miami Music Festival, Newtown Chamber Orchestra Manchester Music Festival and the Martina Arroyo Foundation.
Trent Broussard | Male Soloist 4
Baritone Trent Broussard is a native of Arkansas and studied vocal music at Arkansas State University earning his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees.
Trent studied voice with David Niederbrach for six years and for the past thirteen years has studied privately with Nicholas Loren. Trent was a finalist for the Northeast Arkansas Symphony Young Artist Competition in 1991 and for the Nicholas Loren Vocal Competition in 2009 and 2010. Solo oratorio work has included Handel’s Messiah with the Delta Symphony, Mozart’s Requiem with the Holland Chorale, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater with the Holland Chorale and Opera Grand Rapids. Trent regularly sings with the Holland Chorale, the West Michigan Opera Project, and the Opera Grand Rapids Chorus appearing in Carmen, Verdi’s Requiem, Orpheus and Eurydice, Rigoletto, The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, The Mikado, and Don Giovanni. Solo roles include Ruder with OGR in The Student Prince, the Herald with OGR in Rigoletto, Figaro with WMOP in The Marriage of Figaro, Olin Blitch with WMOP in Susannah, and most recently the Marquis with OGR in La Traviata. Trent holds a Doctor of Educational Ministry degree from Southern Seminary and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Church Music and Worship from Southwestern Seminary. He serves as the Pastor of Worship at Calvary Baptist Church in Holland, Michigan.