Marysa Abbas is a Minnesotan mezzo-soprano based in Chicago. A passionate performer of new works, Ms. Abbas started her 2016 season by returning to the Minnesota Opera as a chorus member in the critically acclaimed world premiere of Paul Moravec’s The Shining. She then returned to Chicago to perform the role of Grace Ansley in Roman Fever with Opera on Tap Chicago. From there, she was a young artist with the Sugar Creek Opera company in their production of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath. Upcoming engagements include Miss Manners in a semi-staged performance of Miss Manners on Music in Chicago, as well as Ramiro in Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera with the Park and Bark Association. Ms. Abbas will finish out 2016 by creating the role of Trevor in the World Premiere recording of Ross Crean’s The Great God Pan, to be released on Naxos America/Parma Recordings in 2017.
Alissa Andraski, Mezzo-Soprano
Mezzo-soprano Alissa Andraski holds a degree in Voice from the Chicago College of Performing Arts and Florence University of the Arts in Florence, Italy. After graduating, she studied with Sandra Moon at the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz and German through the University of Munich. While in Europe she also performed in Austria, Switzerland, and Holland. Alissa was a Gertrude Opera Studio Artist in Australia for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. In 2014, she was a finalist in the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic’s Aria Competition and the recipient of The Opera Studio Melbourne’s International Fellowship. In 2015, Alissa was awarded The Opera Studio Melbourne’s Van Straten-Turley Family Foundation Fellowship. Favorite roles performed include Granma Joad in Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath, Anna Gomez and the Foreign Woman in Menotti’s The Consul, Papagena in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, the Abbess in Britten’s Curlew River, and Leonora in John Duke’s Captain Lovelock
Nicole Besa, Soprano
Alaskan soprano Nicole Besa was this year’s 3rd place winner in the international Classical Singer Competition, and was last seen performing at Lyric Opera of Chicago in “The King and I,” directed by Lee Blakeley and conducted by David Chase.
Ms. Besa has been heard as Marie/ La Fille du Régiment, Gretel/ Hansel and Gretel, Zerlina/ Don Giovanni, Adele/ Die Fledermaus, Musetta/ La Bohème, Pamina/ Die Zauberflöte, Mme. Silberklang/ Der Schauspieldirektor, Yum-Yum/ The Mikado, Trix/ The Drowsy Chaperone, Yvette/ Miss Saigon, and Liat/ South Pacific. Ms. Besa has been young artist on full scholarship at both the Metropolitan International Music Festival under the direction of Sharon Cheng and Wei-En Hsu, and the Tiroler Opern Program in Austria under the direction of Metropolitan Opera director Elizabeth Bachman. She completed her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Illinois Wesleyan University and her Associates in Theatre Arts from Brigham Young University.
Rebecca Bucchel, Mezzo-Soprano
Rebecca Buechel graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in 2015 with a B. M. in vocal performance. She currently attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she is pursuing an M. M. in vocal performance, studying with Jim Doing. She has a teaching assistantship in voice at UW Madison. While in Madison, she has appeared as #3 in Transformations with UW Opera Theatre and The Duchess of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers with Madison Savoyards. Upcoming performances include Mistress Quickly in Falstaff with UW Opera Theatre.
Erin K. Bryan, Soprano
Erin K. Bryan, soprano, is currently pursuing a DMA in voice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the tutelage of Paul Rowe. With a passion for oratorio, she was most recently heard as soprano soloist for Mozart’s Coronation Mass at the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica, as well as Pergolesi's Stabat Mater in Louisville, KY. Recent operatic roles include #2/Anne Sexton (Transformations) and Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro) with UW Opera, Asilah (A Woman in Morocco) with Kentucky Opera, and Annina (La Traviata) with Cedar Rapids Opera. In June, she returned to Cedar Rapids Opera to sing Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. Erin holds degrees from Lawrence University, where she studied with Steven Spears and Patrice Michaels, and the University of Louisville, where she studied with Edith Davis Tidwell. This March, she will sing the Governess in UW-Madison's production of The Turn of the Screw.
Michaella Cipriani, Soprano
Michaella Cipriani is fourth year student at Northwestern University studying mechanical engineering and vocal performance. Her most recent opera roles include Ciesca (Gianni Schicchi) and La Suora Zelatrice (Suor Angelica). She is currently directing a production of Mozart’s Magic Flute with Northwestern’s Undergraduate Company of Opera Singers. She has served as a director, producer, performer, props designer, costumer and supertitle author for various musicals and operas at Northwestern and as a technical direction intern/carpenter at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre. She has performed as a soloist with the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen Orchestra, Opera Project Columbus, The New Albany Symphony Orchestra, The Northwestern Symphony Orchestra and Northwestern’s Baroque Music Ensemble. This past summer, she wrote a full English lyric translation Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro on a Northwestern Undergraduate Research Grant. She is also the adaptor of an abridged, English-language version of Monteverdi book 8.
Joshua Cook, Baritone
Baritone Joshua Cook continues to establish himself as a regional operatic voice. Joshua has performed with Opera Columbus, Seagle Music Colony, Opera Project Columbus, Midwest Institute of Opera, Franco-American Vocal Academy, Short North Stage, and Ohio State University Lyric & Opera Theatre. Joshua is currently pursuing a degree in Vocal Performance from The Ohio State University, studying under Dr. Robin Rice. During the 2016-2017 season, Joshua will join Opera Project Columbus as Ben in Menotti’s The Telephone and Vittorio in Nino Rota’s I due timidi. In the summer of 2016, Joshua was a Seagle Music Colony Young Artist, singing Legs Diamond and Cutie LaRue in the world premiere of Evan Mack’s Roscoe. In July of 2015, Joshua appeared with the Midwest Institute of Opera as Dandini in Rossini’s La Cenerentola under Maestro Joshua Greene of the Metropolitan Opera.
Ariana Douglas, Soprano
Soprano Ariana Douglas is a returning member of the Florentine Opera Studio Artist program and will sing Mrs. Vance in the world premiere of Aldridge and Garfein’s Sister Carrie and Zerlina in Don Giovanni this season. During the 2015/2016 season with Florentine Opera, Ms. Douglas sang Cugina in Madama Butterfly and Sally in Die Fledermaus. Other credits include the soprano soloist for Bruckner’s Te Deum with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Mozart’s Requiem with LSU Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Douglas was a Young Artist at the 2016 Glimmerglass Festival covering the roles of Mary Warren and Ann Putnam in The Crucible. Ms. Douglas is a graduate of Louisiana State University where she completed her M.M. and her undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Lydia Rose Eiche, Soprano
Praised for her “pinpoint security,” “handsome tone,” and “impressive purity,” Lydia Rose Eiche has sung as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and in opera productions at the University of Wisconsin and Southern Illinois University. Her roles include Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Dalinda in Handel’s Ariodante, and the title role in John Duke’s comic one-act Captain Lovelock. In addition, she sang Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro at Opera Orvieto, in Italy. Her awards include the John David Anello Sr. & Albert A. Silverman Memorial Scholarship from the Civic Music Association of Milwaukee and First Place in the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Auditions, Wisconsin and Illinois Chapters. She will be singing the role of Laetitia in Arthur Sullivan's The Zoo later this October with Boulevard Productions and Plymouth Chorale. Lydia is currently studying at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music with Marlee Sabo.
Jared V. Esguerra, Tenor
A Chicago native, Filipino-American tenor, Jared, is a member of Lyric Opera of Chicago's Core Supplementary Chorus, recently portrayed Miles/The Turn of the Screw (Chicago Fringe Opera) and Ferrando/Cosi fan tutte (Floating Opera Company, also in Chicago). He has also sung Pirelli/Sweeney Todd and George/Sister Carrie (Janiec Opera Company at Brevard Music Center), the Messenger/Il Trovatore(as an apprentice artist at Sarasota Opera), and the Englishman/Angélique, Luiz/The Gondoliers, and Eisenstein/Die Fledermaus (all at DePaul University, of which he's an alumnus). He was a tenor soloist in "Now Let's Sing" with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and in Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass at DePaul.
Meghan Folkerts, Mezzo-Soprano
Native Arizonan and Chicago-based mezzo-soprano Meghan Folkerts just completed her second summer with Opera in the Ozarks as an Emerging Artist and an Outreach Artist for the company. She has been commended for her rich, warm, and full sound, as well as for her fearless acting choices while portraying a diverse array of characters. Her roles on the operatic stage include Dorabella (Cosi fan tutte), Nancy (Albert Herring), La Frugola (Il Tabarro), Nicklausee/Muse (Les Contes d'Hoffmann), Third Lady (Die Zauberflöte), Maharanee (The Last Savage), Iolanthe (Iolanthe), Hansel (Hansel and Gretel), and Dido (Dido and Aeneas). Her concert work includes Vivald i's G loria, Berg's Sieben Früh e Lieder and Brahms' Liebeslieder, Op. 52. She completed her graduate studies at the prestigious Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University and studied with Mary Ann Hart. She is currently under the tutelage of Jane Dutton. She has performed opera scenes with Opera in the Ozarks, IU Opera Workshops and Northwestern University under the direction of Robert Swedberg, Heidi Grant Murphy, and W. Stephen Smith. Favorite roles include Rosina (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Carmen (Carmen), Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier), Sesto (La Clemenza di Tito), Cherubino and Marcellina (Le Nozze di Figaro), Maddalena (Rigoletto), and Mallika (Lakmé). She received her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) and studied with Carolyn Fons. While at WLC, she performed roles in many theater productions, including Mopsa (The Winter’s Tale), the Doctor (New York), Lady Jedburgh (Lady Windermere’s Fan), and Anita (West Side Story).
Nathaniel Hill, Baritone
Alexandra Kassouf, Soprano
Lyric soprano Alexandra Kassouf has demonstrated her versatility as a performer, showing particular facility for early music and new works. Current season highlights include the premiere of a song cycle by Michael Csanyi-Wills with the Constella Festival and premiering the role of Clara Schumann in Fresco Opera Theater’s Clara. She has also been a recent soloist with the Cincinnati Bach Ensemble.
Ms. Kassouf has sung with the Cincinnati Chamber Opera since their inaugural season, taking on the roles of Bubikopf (Der Kaiser von Atlantis) and the Cat (Brundibar), and covering the role of Galatea (Acis and Galatea). She has delighted audiences in the roles of Musetta (La Bohème), Helena (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Barbarina (Le Nozze di Figaro), and Drusilla (The Coronation of Poppea). She earned a Master of Music degree from College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Thomas Leighton, Tenor
Thomas Leighton, from Saugerties, NY holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY with graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a Studio Artist with the Florentine Opera in 2015-2016, Mr. Leighton appeared in Madama Butterfly and Die Fledermaus. Last season also included concert appearances with the symphony orchestras of both Milwaukee and Madison. Other recent engagements include appearances in Fidelio and Sweeney Todd, both as a Studio Artist with Madison opera in 2014-2015, and the role of Tamino in University Opera’s production of Die Zauberföte. Returning to the Florentine in 2016-2017, Mr. Leighton will appear in the world premiere of Aldridge and Garfein’s Sister Carrie, to be recorded and released on the Naxos label.
Reuben Lillie, Baritone
Known for his “virile sound” and “reliable technique” (Opera Today), baritone Reuben L. Lillie has appeared most recently in Philip Glass’ Galileo Galilei(Salviati) with Des Moines Metro Opera, The Magic Flute (Papageno) with Sugar Creek Opera, and Die Fledermaus (Frank) with Sugar Creek and Vero Beach Operas, having also debuted the role of the Jury Foreman in The Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere of Theo Morrison’s Oscar. In concert Reuben has served as soloist with Gaudete Brass Quintet, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and notably for his interpretation of Ralph Vaughan Williams, having presented the Five Mystical Songs with the Downers Grove Choral Society and the Chicago premiere of the orchestrated Songs of Travel at Symphony Center with the Chicago College of Performing Arts Symphony Orchestra. In competition, Reuben has received first prize from the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and been named a regional finalist by the Metropolitan Opera National Council.
Sean Lynch, Baritone
Sean Lynch, Baritone, originally hails from Oshkosh, WI. There, he earned his Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He then attended the University of Iowa, earning a Master of Arts Degree in Voice. Sean made his professional debut as Dr. Falke in The Genesius Guild’s production of Die Fledermaus. He has also been a Young Artist in the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre Young Artist Program. This past April, Sean appeared as Johannes Brahms in Fresco Opera Theatre’s production of Clara. His other performance credits include The Vicar in Albert Herring, Mr. Gobineau in The Medium, Simone in Gianni Schicchi, Grégorio in Roméo et Juliette, and Amelia’s Husband in Amelia goes to the Ball. At the University of Iowa in the winter of 2014, Sean also collaborated with pianist Casey Rafn in a staged performance of Franz Schubert’s Winterreise.
Tim Murray, Baritone
Wisconsin-born baritone Tim Murray recently made his New Jersey Symphony debut as the baritone soloist in Berlioz’s Lélio under the baton of Jacques Lacombe. His credits include Pater Ecstaticus in Mahler’s 8th Symphony with the Oratorio Society of New York and the role of Le Vicomte de Valmont in Conrad Susa’s The Dangerous Liaisons - the opera based on the notorious book and film. Previous credits include Leporello in Don Giovanni with both New York Lyric Concert Opera and Manhattan School of Music, Le Meutrier in Bloch’s Macbeth, Harlekin in Ariadne auf Naxos with Twin Cities Fringe Opera, and chorus work with Minnesota Opera, a company with which Tim has worked as a performer for their elementary school outreach program. Tim is a recent graduate of Manhattan School of Music.
Emily Pogorelc, Soprano
A Milwaukee native, soprano Emily Pogorelc is currently in her third year at the Curtis Institute of Music and is a student of Julia Faulkner. With Curtis Opera Theatre, Emily will perform as the Fire in Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, Lucia in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and Lisette in Puccini’s La Rondine. Last season, Emily sang the roles of Musetta in Puccini’s La Boheme and Barbarina in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro with Curtis Opera Theatre, Chan Parker in the New York premiere of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD and the title role in David Hertzberg's The Rose Elf in Opera Philadelphia’s Double Exposure. With the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Emily performed in Berio’s Sinfonia at Carnegie Hall and Verzion Hall. She also was a Young Artist at the Glimmerglass Festival, performing as Johanna in Sweeney Todd and Berenice in Lost Luggage (Rossini’s L’occasione fa il ladro).
Anna M. Polum, Soprano
Anna Polum, holds degrees from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Music Education and Voice Performance. She is currently working on her Master’s in Music in Voice Performance at the University of Wisconsin – Madison studying under Jim Doing. Anna has won numerous NATS competitions, placing 2nd and 1st for the past 4 years both in Wisconsin and Alaska. She has also been singing with various opera companies and festivals for quite some time. Most recently she sang Contessa Almaviva in the University Opera’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro. In the 2016-2017 season Anna will be the Soprano Studio Artist for Madison Opera, covering roles such as Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), Chan Parker (Charlie Parker’s Yardbird), and Pamina, as well as singing Papagena in the same production of Die Zauberflote.
Ashley Puenner, Mezzo-Soprano
Mezzo-soprano Ashley Puenner, from Crystal Lake, Illinois, holds a Master of Music from the University of Kansas and a Bachelor’s of Music from Illinois Wesleyan University. Recent highlights include: Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro and Carmen in The Tragedy of Carmen with KU Opera, and Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd with the Janiec Opera Company at Brevard Music Center. Pursuing an avid interest in newly composed music, she has premiered works by several composers including Emile Naoumoff and Forrest Pierce, along with commissioning a song cycle by American composer Nathan Jones (Six Qabbani Love Songs). Ms. Puenner is currently a Studio Artist with Florentine Opera where she will appear as Mrs. Hurstwood in the world premiere of Aldridge and Garfein's Sister Carrie, to be released on the Naxos label.
Austin Sanders, Baritone
Austin Sanders, baritone, is from Onalaska, Wisconsin. He attended Viterbo University, where he performed the roles of Ko-Ko in The Mikado, Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola, Polypheme in Acis and Galatea, Antonio in Le Nozze di Figaro, Dr. Gregg in Gallantry, and Don Annibale in Il Campanello di notte. He is a student of Dan Johnson-Wilmot. In NATS State and Regional Auditions he has placed first in the Advanced/Graduate Men’s Category in 2015/16, and second in the same category at the National Student Auditions of NATS at the recent NATS National Conference in Chicago. At the 2016 Bruce Carlson Scholarship Competition of the Schubert Club in St. Paul MN, Austin won the second place award in the advanced voice category. He was a semi-finalist at the Classical Singer Vocal Competition in Boston this past May. In 2014, he received an encouragement award at the District Metropolitan Opera Auditions in Wisconsin.
Joshua Sanders, Tenor
Tenor Joshua Sanders is a second year master’s student at the Manhattan School of Music studying with Ruth Golden. In the 2015/16 season Sanders made debuts with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra as The Imaginary Voice in Berlioz’s Lélio, and the Westchester Oratorio Society as the tenor soloist in Bach’s Magnificat. He was also a featured performer in artist Mingwei’s Sonic Blossom exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the summer of both 2014 and ’15 Sanders was a Wolf Trap Opera Studio Artist, and received a career grant from the Wolf Trap Foundation in 2015. In the fall of 2015 he was a finalist in the Gerda Lissner song and lieder competition in New York City. While an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sanders made his professional principal debut as Tobias Ragg in Sweeney Todd with Madison Opera.
Alexandra Schiano, Soprano
Alexandra Schiano (soprano) relocated to Chicago following the completion of her M.M. at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Dr. Mary Schiller. Ms. Schiano has spent the past two years singing and touring Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte) and Geraldine (Hand of Bridge) with The Floating Opera Company throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. Previous operatic credits include title roles in Massenet's Cendrillon and Mozart's La finta giardiniera. She has also performed as Elisetta in Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto, The Widow in Argento's The Boor, Musetta in La bohème, Despina in Così fan tutte, Serpetta in La finta giardiniera, Edith in The Pirates of Penzance, and Angelina in Trial by Jury. This year she will revisit the role of Sandrina (La finta giardiniera) for Park&Bark with OperaModa and sing Mimi in La bohème with the DaCorneto Opera Studio. Ms. Schiano is an enthusiastic proponent of arts and classical music outreach, and spent two years as an artistic associate with the Great Lakes Light Opera Group. She is currently a student of Alvaro Ramirez.
Luke Selker, Tenor
Luke Selker is a fullvoiced American tenor based out of Appleton, WI. Luke recently completed his B.M. at Belmont University in Music Performance, and has spent the time thereafter studying with vocal acoustician and teacher, Kenneth Bozeman in Wisconsin at Lawrence University privately. Some of Luke’s achievements include being a multipletime NATS finalist, winning Belmont’s Concerto Competition, singing as a featured soloist with the New Voices Chorus and Fox Valley Chamber Orchestra, performing as the tenor soloist in the world premiere of Ian Good’s On Death with the NCO recently, and winning the opportunity to study in a Masterclass setting with worldrenowned MezzoSoprano, Denyce Graves. Roles Luke has performed include Chevalier de la Force from Dialogues des Carmelites, Vasek from Prodana Nevesta, Peter Quint from the Turn of the Screw, Alberto from L’Occasione fa il Ladro, Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd, and Don Basilio from Le Nozze diFigaro.
Bridget Skaggs, Mezzo-Soprano
Mezzo-soprano Bridget Skaggs’ versatile repertoire ranges from delicate chamber music to robust solo concert works and opera theater. Ms. Skaggs’ luxurious vocal tone has been praised for recent performances with Chicago Folks Operetta, City Winery Chicago, Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, Lake Forest Civic Orchestra, and Fourth Coast Ensemble, of which she is a founding member. Operatic credits include Charlotte in A Little Night Music (Opera Theater of Pittsburgh), Tangolita in Ball at the Savoy (CFO, American Premiere), Quickly in Falstaff (/kor/ productions), as well as several full roles performed at her alma mater Oklahoma City University including Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus, Flora in La Traviata, and the Secretary in The Consul. A resident of Chicago since 2012, Ms. Skaggs currently studies with soprano Maria Lagios. For more information visit www.bridgetskaggs.com.
Catherine Spitzer, Soprano
Catherine Spitzer made her mainstage debut last year as Mimì in La Bohème with Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater and has been a Young Artist with Chicago Opera Theater. She has received awards from the Schuyler Foundation for Career Bridges, the Musicians Club of Women (Edith Newfield Award) and has been a semi-finalist in the Florida Grand Opera YPO Competition, and a finalist in the Union League Civic & Arts Foundation Music Scholarship Auditions. A two time winner of the New World School of the Arts Concerto Competition, Ms. Spitzer has received scholarships from the Music Club of Hollywood Florida, Florida Federation of Music Clubs, and Music Scholarship Society. She received her bachelor’s degree from the New World School of the Arts and has also attended the Chautauqua Institution Voice Program. Ms. Spitzer received her both her master’s degree and a Professional Diploma in Opera from Roosevelt University.
Ian Toohill, Tenor
Ian Toohill studies voice with Dr. Connie Haas and has been privileged to have coached repertoire with such refined artists as Janna Ernst, Đjorđe Nešić, Jeffry Peterson, Kurt Ollmann, and Dame Emma Kirkby. A consummate recitalist and spirited actor, Toohill's specialization lies in the works of Benjamin Britten. His accomplishments include 1st Place in the 2010 Wisconsin NATS Competition, and more recently 6th Prize in the 2015 Czech-Slovak International Competition of Montréal. Toohill received his formal training under the direction of Dr. Bill Lavonis at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he gave memorable performances in operas, scenes programs, recitals, and concert works. His stage roles included Pluto in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, Valetto in Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea, and Matt in Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Toohill made his professional début in 2010 with Door County's Peninsula Players as Mr. Erlanson in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. In 2013, he was featured as the tenor soloist in Marquette University's performance of Mozart's Great Mass in C minor. During Skylight Music Theatre's 2014/15 season, Toohill originated the Circus Announcer in the world première of Sucharitkul’s The Snow Dragon, appeared in the ensemble of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, and portrayed Rapunzel's Prince in Sondheim’s Into The Woods. Currently, he is performing as a chorister in Florentine Opera Company’s 2016 world première production/recording of Grammy Award-winning Robert Aldridge’s opera, Sister Carrie.
Jiabao Zhang, Tenor