Sharon Cheng as Lucia
Gained acclaim for her “comic talent and dazzling high notes,” soprano Sharon Cheng’s brilliant voice with distinctive warm timbre and exceptional flexibility has made her successful in delivering coloratura repertoire, including Atalanta in Handel’s Serse, Miss Silverpeal in Mozart’s The Impresario, Königin der Nacht in Die Zauberflöte, Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Fée in Massenet’s Cendrillon, and Lucy in Menotti’s The Telephone. She also performed both La Musica and Proserpina in David Ronis’s award-winning production of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, and premiered the Envious Minion in Phillip Martin’s micro-opera Fall Back. Additionally, she covered the title role of Handel’s Alcina with the Pocket Opera of New York, Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail with Opera New Jersey, and Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto with Syracuse Opera.
In 2009, Miss Cheng made her professional debut with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra as the soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and performed a semi-staged production of Orff’s Carmina Burana with Queens College Choral Society. In 2011, she made her Carnegie Hall debut at the Stern Auditorium, took part in the Caramoor International Music Festival, and, as a Bechstein Artist, gave “A Tribute to Franz Liszt” recital tour to celebrate the composer’s 200th birthday. She also appeared in interviews/live on-air performances on several radio stations, including BCC, RTI, and WCNY. Her latest recording of Liszt Songs is released by Blue Griffin Recording.
A recipient of The 23th Annual Chimei Arts Award in 2011, Miss Cheng also won the Taiwan National Theater Concert Hall 2009 Young Star Audition, and was selected to be the young artist in the Mozartwoche in Salzburg. Moreover, she was winner in the Liszt International Competition, The Metropolitan Opera National Council District Auditions, the NTD International Vocal Competition, and Civic Morning Musicals Vocal Competition, among the others.
A native of Taiwan, Miss Cheng holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Pennsylvania State University, a Master’s degree in Music Performance from Syracuse University, and an Artist Diploma from Queens College, CUNY. She has been mentored by her teachers Dr. Sherry Overholt and internationally acclaimed soprano Lauren Flanigan.
William Davenport as Edgardo
William Davenport, tenor, is rapidly garnering attention for his strong yet lyric tenor and Italianate style. Of his performance in Chesapeake Chamber Opera’s production of La Boheme, Tim Smith of The Baltimore Sun said, “William Davenport, who sang the role of Rodolfo has the makings of a significant tenor. There’s an immediately expressive and appealing quality in the timbre, one with quite an Italianate tint…” A native of Maryland, Mr. Davenport completed studies at the Peabody Conservatory of Music under Dr. Stanley Cornett. He performed frequently with Peabody Opera, including the roles of Des Grieux in Manon, Alfred in Die Fledermaus, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, and Alfredo in La Traviata. Outside the walls of Peabody, Mr. Davenport has performed as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in a semi-staged production with the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and has completed runs as Roméo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette both with Chesapeake Chamber Opera, and Bel Cantanti Opera. He has performed in several opera highlights concerts throughout the area including an opera night with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra as part of their Masterworks series, “Opera Goes to the Movies” with Maryland Concert Opera, “Opera Greats!” and “The Life of Rossini” with Baltimore Concert Artists as well as “Mozart by Candlelight” with Annapolis Opera. On the concert stage Mr. Davenport has performed as tenor soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Concert artists of Baltimore, Dvořák’s Mass in D with Columbia Pro Cantare, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle and Puccini’s Messa di Gloria at Peabody, Messiah with the Frederick Chamber Singers, and Mozart’s Coronation Mass with the Montgomery College Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. In competition, he has been a regional finalist at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, he won 2nd place in the Annapolis Opera Competition, and most recently was the winner of the Giargiari Bel Canto competition at the Academy of Vocal Arts. Mr. Davenport has completed young artist programs with Chautauqua Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, and Songfest. He is currently a Resident Artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia where he studies with Bill Schuman.
Nicholas Pallesen as Enrico
A native of Riverside, CA, Baritone Nicholas Pallesen is quickly establishing himself as one of the most promising talents of his generation. Critics have praised him for his “authority and tonal beauty”, “handsome, stylish singing”, “depth of feeling”, and his “formidable portrayal in bearing and voice”. He is a former Grand Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and can be seen in the documentary, “The Audition”.
In the 2011-2012 season, Mr. Pallesen will join the roster of the Los Angeles Opera to cover the title role in Eugene Onegin, return to the roster of the Metropolitan Opera covering Lysander in The Enchanted Island, and sing Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor with Baltimore Concert Opera.
In the 2010-2011 season, the baritone received widespread acclaim for his portrayal of Robert Storch in Strauss’ Intermezzo at New York City Opera opposite Mary Dunleavy, which followed a successful debut at NYCO as Sharpless in Madama Butterfly earlier in the year. The season also included Sharpless in his debut with El Paso Opera, covering the role of Bill Foster in the New York premiere of Stephen Schwartz’s opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon at NYCO, and a debut with Opera New Jersey singing John Sorel in The Consul.
Mr. Pallesen is a recent graduate of the Juilliard Opera Center. During his time in JOC, he performed Professor Himmelhuber in Krenek’s Schwergewicht, oder die Ehre der Nation under the baton of James Conlon, the title role in John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer conducted by the composer, the title role in Stephen Wadsworth’s production of Verdi’s Falstaff, and Top in Copland’s The Tender Land. He is also a former young artist with the Santa Fe Opera and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where he sang several featured roles.
Mr. Pallesen is a winner of the Giulio Gari, the Sullivan Foundation, the Opera Index, and the National Federation of Music Clubs Competitions. He has also won awards from the Lorin L. Zachary Society, the Liederkranz Foundation, the Gerda Lissner Foundation, the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, the Opera Birmingham Competition, the Santa Fe Opera, and a Richard Gold Career Grant from the Shoshana Foundation, among others.
Matthew Curran as Raimondo
A native of Princeton, NJ, Matthew Curran, has garnered attention internationally with his broad range of repertoire and strong physical presence. Critics have described him as having “the voice of a poet,” and a sound “that is confident and comes with a twinkle.”
Mr. Curran has focused on the core bass repertoire such as Sarastro, Colline, Sarastro, Frère Laurent, Sparafucile and Gremin, while actively pursuing contemporary and lesser-known works such as Britten’s Gloriana, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Rape of Lucretia, Stephen Schwartz’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon, Daron Hagen’s Shining Brow, Lowell Lieberman’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness, and Christopher Berg’s Cymbeline. He has also been a regular singer with American Opera Projects in numerous works in development as well as being a resident singer for their Composer and the Voice workshop for three seasons.
A cum laude graduate of the Loyola University New Orleans School of Music, he received his Master’s degree at the prestigious Indiana University School of Music, which led him to being immediately accepted into the Seattle Opera’s young artist program where he sang Colline in La Bohème, Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola and Zaretsky in Eugene Onegin on the main stage. Following Seattle he furthered his training at the International Opera Studio in Zurich singing Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, Macrobio in Rossini’s La Pietra del Paragone, and Max Hammer in Der Musikfeind along with numerous smaller roles on the Main stage along side many of the world’s top names. He has performed with Seattle Opera, Zürich Opera, Opera New Jersey, New Orleans Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Central City Opera, Skagit Opera, Washington East Opera, Center City Opera Theater, Opera Company of Brooklyn, Castleton Festival, American Symphony Orchestra, and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra among others.
Heather Kniotek-DeSimone as Alisa
Heather Kniotek-DeSimone has sung to critical acclaim, “melting minds and hearts with appropriate power” and “enticing with her luminosity,” according to German reviews in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Münchner Merkur while singing with the Elysium- Between Two Continents Academy and Festival. A Baltimore transplant, and New York native, Ms. Kniotek DeSimone received her undergraduate degree in Classical Voice from the State University of New York, Purchase College Conservatory of Music, and her Masters of Music from the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University where she was awarded merit based scholarships and the Charles M. Eaton Memorial Voice Award. Heather is equally at home performing concert, oratorio, and opera repertoire, as well as liturgical works as Soprano soloist at Catonsville United Methodist Church. Ms. Kniotek DeSimone was hailed as a “rich, warm soprano [that] was agile and positively sparkling on top” (The Baltimore Examiner), as Berta in Il barbiere di Siviglia with Baltimore Concert Opera. Her additional opera credits include Giovanna in Rigoletto with Baltimore Opera Theatre, Spirit of Antonia’s Mother in Les contes d’Hoffman, with the Peabody Opera Theater, Mimi in La Boheme with the Peabody Conductors Orchestra Project, and The Witch in Hänsel und Gretel and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni with Purchase Concert Opera. Ms. Kniotek DeSimone is a recitalist at heart with a passion for Art Song and works of the Verismo and Romantic period. She is delighted to be singing with the wonderful Baltimore Concert Opera once again.
Ronald Gretz Conductor
Ronald J. Gretz, a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory, is in his 28th. season as Artistic Director and conductor of the Annapolis Opera. Previous opera experience includes being chorus master and assistant conductor with the Baltimore Opera and Chautauqua Summer Opera in New York, conductor for Baltimore Opera’s Summer Opera, and Artistic Director and conductor for the Chesapeake and Harford Opera companies. In addition Mr. Gretz has been on the faculty of Peabody Conservatory as an opera coach and has conducted Broadway musicals both nationally and internationally, performing in Japan and Shanghai, China.
His choral conducting experience includes being director of the Handel Choir of Baltimore and the St. Charles Chorale in addition to over 45 years experience as organist and choir director at various churches in Baltimore.
For over 15 years he has conducted a wide variety of orchestral repertoire with the Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra and the Maryland Philharmonic Orchestra, which he founded in 2004.
Mr. Gretz is a full-time professor of music theory at CCBC, Essex campus, where he has taught for the past 39 years. His textbook Music Language and Fundamentals, now in its second edition, is published by Mc Graw Hill and is being used throughout the United States and Canada.
James Harp Chorus Master and Pianist
James Harp is well known in the Baltimore area as a pianist, organist, stage director, singer, composer, lecturer, writer and conductor. He began his musical career at age 7 as a church soloist, and has concertized in Italy, France, Greece, Israel, the Bahamas, and extensively throughout his native Southern United States. Among his more unusual musical experiences include singing “My Old Kentucky Home” as a soloist on National Television at the 1981 Kentucky Derby, coaching Lily Tomlin in arias from Aida for an Emmy-nominated “Homicide” segment, and nearly drowning after falling backwards into the Sea of Galilee while conducting madrigals.
He is the Artistic Director of Lyric Opera Baltimore, a new grand opera company for Baltimore being supported by the Lyric Opera House, where he oversees opera productions in the theatre as well as directs a significant program of education/outreach programs. He is also heavily involved in pursuing and nurturing partnerships and collaborations with arts organizations both locally and nationally in order to sustain the art forms of opera and music for perpetuity.
He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He was the Artistic Administrator of the Baltimore Opera Company beginning in 1989 and was the Chorus Master since 1993. Since 1983 he has served as organist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and since 1987 has been the Cantor (Organist/Choirmaster) for Baltimore’s historic St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, where he also serves as Artistic Director of the St. Cecilia Society Concert Series. He formerly served as Music Director of the Baltimore Men’s Chorus from 1989-1995 and was the accompanist for the Baltimore Symphony Chorus from 1982-1999. He is very proud to be the Principal Accompanist and Chorus Master for Baltimore Concert Opera since Spring of 2009.
Knowledgeable in many areas of music, he has lectured extensively on opera in many venues, including the Towson Arts Festival, the Maryland Opera Society, the Biblical Archaeology Society, and the Joy of Opera Series. He is on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of Continuing Education. Successful as a writer of operatic children’s programs, he and his work Puppets & Pagliacci were featured on a PBS documentary. His reworking and staging of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, changed from Florence, Italy in 1299 to Florence, Alabama, in 1929 and retitled The Tale of Johnnie S. Kickey, has been well received and performed in several regional opera companies and universities. He has served on several national advisory boards as a consultant and advocate for arts agencies.
As a stage director he has directed many operas for Artscape, Baltimore’s summer festival of the arts, including The Medum, Too Many Sopranos, Slow Dusk, and Beauty and the Beast. He has directed The Sorcerer, HMS Pinafore, The Gondoliers, Iolanthe and The Pirates of Penzance with the Young Victorian Opera Company. He has also staged operas at Anne Arundel Community College, where his version of The Elixer of Love, transplanted to Tennessee during Prohibition, was well received, as well as his productions of The Magic Flute and Die Fledermaus.
Sought after as an orchestral musician and accompanist, he has been featured as soloist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in works ranging from Saint-Saens Organ Symphony to Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. He has appeared as continuo (harpsichord/organ) soloist with many local orchestral and choral groups, where his informed and histrionic realizations of baroque figured bass have won acclaim. Accompanist to many local singers, many of whom feature his own compositions, he has also accompanied such artists as Leontyne Price, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes, Licia Albanese, Anna Moffo, Chris Merritt, Lucine Amara, and Paul Plishka.
An aficionado of gardening, theology, genealogy and all things Victorian, he lives in the Bolton Hill neighborhood of Baltimore with his three gregarious pugs, Vivian, Jewell, and Woodrow.
Dennis James Armonica
Finger Lakes area resident and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music graduate Dennis James’ professional career musical activities include solo, chamber ensemble, symphony and opera performances featuring his celebrated collection of antique and modern glass instruments. For the upcoming Fall 2011 semester, Professor James has accepted an appointment as Lecturer in the Music Department, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey introducing a newly developing glass music program that is initially offering graduate studies instruction in glass armonica history and performance.
Now touring under representation by the Crystal City Music organization based in Corning, NY, James performs historical glass music repertoire with a set of two Reckert-Eisch reproductions of Benjamin Franklin’s famed glass Armonica (1761 mechanized musical glass design considered to be the first truly American music instrument), a Reckert-Eisch concert Seraphim and a Hopkinson-Smith Grand Harmonicon (recreation and original 19th c. antique sets of tuned musical glasses), and for his contemporary music endeavors with a custom designed Cristal d’ Baschet (the 1952 French sonorous sculpture), Verrophone (S. Reckert’s 20th c. tuned glass tubes), and the Irish Glass Harp (a 2010 specialized glass instrument design by James) among several others in his ever-expanding glass instrument collection. James has been to New York’s Lincoln Center twice this year: first in February to perform the restoration of the now-complete original armonica part in the famed ‘Mad Scene’ within Donizetti’s opera Lucia d’ Lammermoor (recorded for broadcast with Natalie Dessay in the title role) and then again a few weeks ago together with the ICE chamber ensemble at the 2011 Mostly Mozart Festival (a performance NY Times music critic Allan Kozinn termed “magical”). James also performed the Mozart glass concertantequintet K. 617 at the Caramoor Summer Festival earlier this summer (with promotional instrument demonstration video posted on YouTube). Next up on the glass music tour circuit he will be performing armonica with the Atlanta Opera’s November 2011 production of Lucia di Lammermoor with Bloomington, IN resident Arthur Fagen conducting.
James has many record album, cassette and compact disc releases to his credit, has frequently participated in national broadcasts by NBC, ABC, CBS television plus NPR and APR radio. He was the subject of a feature television documentary for the Australian Broadcast Commission and a national Austrian television broadcast of one of his full length Vienna Konzerthaus solo concerts. His touring glass music solo and ensemble performances have been heard on numerous radio broadcasts for the BBC in England, the CBC in Canada plus Italian, French and Belgian national radio and television. James’ glass music recording career includes his Sony-Classical current release, Cristal: Glass Music Through the Ages (featuring James performing both numerous solos and together with the Emerson String Quartet, Ruth Anne Swenson of the Metropolitan Opera Co. and members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra among others), popular music recordings with vocalists Linda Ronstadt both solo and together with Dolly Parton and EmmyLou Harris on the Epic label (promotional performance on CBS’ David Letterman Late Night program may also be viewed on YouTube) and Hollywood film scoring (prominently featured throughout the Owen Wilson film ‘Minus Man’ directed by Hampton Fancher, score by Marco Beltrami).