The Sun Valley Opera’s 2019-2020 winter festival began just at the end of December with the Diamonds in the Snow gala concert starring baritone Nathaniel Hackmann.
That event kicked off proceedings on a series of concerts stretching into March and celebrating a wide variety of the vocal arts.
The second engagement will take place next Monday, Jan. 27, at the Sun Valley Community School Theater in Sun Valley.
The program stars singers Zachary James and Melody Wilson. James has just closed a run of Philip Glass’s opera “Akhenaten” at the New York Metropolitan Opera. That performance was included in the opera’s Met HD live streaming series.
An accomplished bass-baritone, James is one of few artists who can transition seamlessly between opera and Broadway musicals, having performed in “Sweeney Todd,” “Into the Woods,” “Li’l Abner,” “South Pacific” and more.
Melody Wilson has established herself in opera houses around the world as a premier mezzo-soprano. Engagements in St. Louis, Seattle, Vienna and Zaragoza, Spain, pepper a well-traveled CV—one that even includes a solo recital at the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia.
The pair have worked together once before, performing Verdi’s 1841 opera “Nabucco” in St. Louis. They will reunite in Sun Valley next week.
“Zach and I met in 2018 when we were performing ‘Nabucco’ together,” Wilson said. “He sang Zaccharias and I sang Fenena. Zach is such a sweet guy, so it was interesting to see him portray a character who would want to kidnap and sacrifice me. I’m happy that we can have a more cheerful concert together in Sun Valley!”
The Sun Valley Opera is billing the evening under the title “Vienna Meets New York,” which not only plays upon the two cities where Wilson and James most frequently perform, but also serves to exemplify the opera’s new mission to broaden its horizons while simultaneous preserving its roots.
“It’s funny,” James said. “I’ve been at the game for a while, but when I started out it was unusual for a singer to move between Broadway and opera. I started in musical theater and when I moved into opera, the opera people saw me as ‘that Broadway guy.’ Now it’s more normal. Ironically, though, sometimes when I go back to Broadway, people will now say, ‘Hey, you’re that opera guy.’”
That range is key for Sun Valley Opera’s newly appointed Executive Director Robyn Watson.
“We like to offer lots of different genres of vocal arts,” she told the Idaho Mountain Express back in September. “You get a little Broadway, a little this and that, some country music. We are not just the opera. We are really the vocal arts.”
The pairing of Wilson and James captures that objective succinctly in one evening of musical entertainment, and it is something both performers are excited about.
“It will be a mixed program,” Wilson said. “We will have some Broadway hits mixed with operatic hits and some music from the Classical art song repertoire as well.”
James elaborated, “I’m doing a lot of Broadway material, Melody’s doing some opera and we’re meeting in the middle with duets. It’s important to present music from, say, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘South Pacific’ in the same evening with Mozart. It shows that in terms of musicality and professionalism, performing one or the other isn’t that different. They deserve the same respect.”
Wilson echoed those sentiments.
“The foundation for all vocal arts is definitely technique,” she said. “One can sing any genre with good technique. Even today’s pop artists have coaches and teachers to makes sure they stay in line technically.”
To James, one of the inherent bonuses to modeling the program this way is to expose audiences to new media. The singer starred as Lurch in the original Broadway run of “The Addams Family” musical—one of the most oft-produced high school musicals in the country. This has generated a fairly reliable base of teen fans—not a demographic who typically lend an ear to opera.
“I’m a big believer in developing an audience personally, and I’m finding that people are interested in keeping tabs on me and following me around—it’s really quite an honor. It’s great to have the opportunity, if for example a teenager reaches out to me on Instagram about ‘The Addams Family,’ to be able to say, ‘Hey, thanks very much. I’m going to be in your area doing an opera. Come check it out.’ Maybe that way I can introduce someone to an artform they may not have considered before.”
Cost of admission is $75 and tickets can be purchased online now from sunvalleyopera.com. Doors will open at the Sun Valley Community School Theater at 6:15 p.m. The concert will then commence at 7 p.m.
James and Wilson will galivant through showtunes and operatic pieces, respectively, meeting in the middle to perform together and exemplify the similarities between the genres, demonstrating the equal levels of musicianship, technical prowess and artistry required by these vocal forms.