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OperaBend brings the Bitter and the Sweet

Passion for opera never seems to wane too far from the cultural zeitgeist. Art forms like written and spoken word poetry and certain styles of theater seem to come and go, but opera never fully disappears.

But since the Obsidian Opera closed down five years ago, Bend's opera scene has been in a holding pattern; sure, a few scattershot events, but nothing consistent enough to offer local opera aficionados a dependable fix for their chosen art.

Enter OperaBend, co-founded in 2012 by longtime Bend residents, Creative Director Nancy Engebretson and Executive Director Jason Stein.

"The opera scene all but disappeared with the closing of Obsidian Opera," explained Engebretson. "Jason and I were singing here and there, yet feeling the lack of being with opera colleagues and working with a creative team," she continued. "Following the summer of 2012, singing with the Emerald City Opera in Steamboat Springs, we both felt inspired to bring opera back to Bend."

OperaBend's mission statement is based around "promoting, nurturing and preserving the Central Oregon tradition of excellence in opera and classical music," and with a production Les Miserables already cast and in rehearsals for its opening at the Tower Theater in September, and Love: The Bitter and The Sweet on May 31, it seems to be heading in the right direction.

OperaBend, in conjunction with the COCC Department of Fine Arts and the University of Oregon Opera Ensemble, are presenting Love: The Bitter and The Sweet as a staged medley of some of the finest operatic pieces in history. The show includes timeless sections from Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," Verdi's "La Traviata," Jacques Offenbach's opera fantastique "Les Contes d'Hoffman" and Mozart's "The Magic Flute," as well as more modern compositions such as Douglas Moore's "The Ballad of Baby Doe."

The pieces will be sung in English as well as in the original foreign languages by some of Oregon's most noted singers, many whom are making their OperaBend debuts. "We have nine performers who are new to OperaBend and seven of them are new to opera," said Engebretson. "Five young artist performers from Redmond, an accomplished opera singer from Madras, a COCC student from Prineville and two young Redmond men. It is truly exciting and gratifying to introduce them to Central Oregon audiences." With the excellent Scott Michaelsen accompanying on Piano, Love: The Bitter and the Sweet seems like an opera enthusiast's paradise.

"I first experienced live opera at a university performance. It was a transformative moment. I had always been in musicals and choirs, yet when I heard a sextet of voices singing Donizetti in six different 'voices' and characters, it was like nothing I ever heard. Opera theater has been a large part of my life since that day," said Engebretson. "The great composers link lyric and music so perfectly that the sum of the parts is pure alchemy. When a singer adds a fine and nuanced expression, the possibility of a rarified moment, perhaps a mystical moment, exists for all involved." Opera sounds like it is in very safe hands in Central Oregon.

Love: The Bitter and the Sweet

Sat. May 31, 7pm

Pinckney Center for the Performing Arts, COCC

$7; COCC students, free.

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