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Opera company hits a high note
by Jessica Garcia
Jul 07, 2010 | 878 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Nathan Orme - Sparks resident Karen Solaegui, 22, performs with Opera Bel Canto. She studied music at the University of Minnesota.
Tribune/Nathan Orme - Sparks resident Karen Solaegui, 22, performs with Opera Bel Canto. She studied music at the University of Minnesota.
RENO — Karen Solaegui, 22, said “it just happened” when she found her passion for music in high school.

Just a few weeks ago, she returned to her family’s native Sparks after studying music and graduating from the University of Minnesota. Though she eventually wants to be a speech pathologist, opera is a very close second love.

“It was what my voice sounded like,” Solaegui said of her discovery of opera. “I like that it’s a challenge but it’s also rewarding to take the pieces of these composers who are so brilliant and make them your own.”

Recently, she gave one of her first public performances at the inaugural reception for Opera Bel Canto (OBC), a touring company that has a goal of introducing school children opera, a musical genre that never has been introduced in the schools — especially with many music programs being done away with because of budget cuts.

“We felt that with the music programs being cut, the kids needed to have a genre that is not taught in public schools,” said Diana Hoffman, president and general director of OBC in Reno.

Hoffman welcomed a nearly standing room only crowd on June 28 at Steinway Gallery in Reno for the reception. She announced the new musical organization received its tax-exempt status in February and even more recently received its first development grant of $1,100 from the Nevada Arts Council.

The funding will enable OBC to take its music and performers to Washoe County schools, whether they are traditional or multi-track sites.

Artistic director Gerald Willis said most children never have been exposed to opera.

“This is a chance for every child to be hands on,” Willis said. “How to implement it remains to be seen, but we want to make sure we’re coordinating our music with their curriculum.”

The performers will be considered guest artists or artists in residence. Most of those singers who join the OBC to help kids appreciate the genre have been classically trained, Willis said, and have attained their master’s degrees.

Some of those singers have been or will be auditioning for OBC’s three planned productions this year, including “Naughty Marietta,” “Lakme” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” These productions are open to men and women vocalists ages 17 and older.

“They’ve had a European education but ended up in this region,” Willis said of local performers. “The stars just lined up.”

Hoffman said OBC “grew out of a desire to ensure there would be young audiences in northern Nevada forever and forever” as the art and music programs are being decimated in schools.

Willis said music is something anyone can relate to no matter their lot in life.

“Music is where people come when they want to be comforted, when everything’s not quite right in the world,” Willis said.

For more information about Opera Bel Canto or how to audition for an upcoming production, visit
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