Local performers prepare to share stage with opera icon Ramey

By Parker Knox

Twelve Vermillion/USD performers will be on the stage of the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls next week alongside one of the world's most renowned operatic talents when Mozart's "The Magic Flute" is presented by Sounds of South Dakota, Inc.

 Organized 10 years ago to enhance professional music opportunities for South Dakota performers and audiences without having to travel to metropolitan areas, Sounds of South Dakota, Inc. is bonding with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra to bring opera icon Samuel Ramey to Sioux Falls for performances of the Mozart classic at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15 and 2:30 p.m. Sept. 16.

 Ramey has been a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the San Francisco Opera and such European venues as La Scala, Covent Garden, the Paris Opera and the Vienna State Opera.  He never in his storied career has performed the role of Sarastro until the Sioux Falls performance.

 The opportunity of a lifetime to share the stage of the Mary Sommervold Hall at the pavilion with the likes of Ramey has local opera performers giddy with excitement.

 Dr. Brandon Hendrickson, voice/opera professor at USD said, "Getting to be a part of this exceptional production is very special for me because I get to share the stage with one of the greatest singers and performers of our time."

 Hendrickson, who has the leading role of Papageno in "The Magic Flute," said he will do his best not to be star-struck in Ramey's presence, "but you can bet I will be getting my picture taken with him." 

 "I cannot stress how big of a deal it is having him so near," Hendrickson added.  "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for people in our community to see and hear one of the most internationally acclaimed artists of our time."

 Papageno is one of Hendrickson's favorite roles.  "He provides much of the comic relief in the opera," he said.  "I find something new and quirky to incorporate into the character each time I am presented the opportunity to perform this fantastic role."

 Dr. Tracelyn Gesteland, another USD voice/opera professor, who will play the lead role of Zweite Dame, is likewise thrilled personally to share the stage with Ramey, but she is also anticipating performing with a cast that includes her husband, colleagues from around the state and several of her own USD students.

 The Sioux Falls production is a first in several ways, Gesteland explained.  "It is the first time a local opera company has produced a fully-staged, fully-costumed opera on the Mary Sommervold Hall main stage," she said.  Besides being Ramey's first time ever in the Sarastro role, it will be the first time the South Dakota Symphony will use the pit to play a show at the pavilion.

 "Audiences will hear music of the highest quality and be entertained by one of the most beloved fairytale operas of all time," Gesteland added.  "Local people can have a big-city experience without having to leave the state."

 Gesteland's husband, Thor, who works for the University of South Dakota Foundation, has another leading role, that of Monastatos.  Two smaller roles are held by current USD students ¬– Natalie Campbell as First Spirit and Cody Perk as Third Slave.

Kristin Edwards and Laura Kuschel, spring 2012 voice graduates of USD, and current students Jordyn Bangasser, Laura Bertschinger, Ashley Hogarth, Jared Mogen and Amanda Rich are all in the 30-member chorus.

 "I'm super-excited to be working with so many talented musicians," said Hogarth.  "This is a great opportunity for me as a college student to get some real-world experience and a great way for students from different universities in South Dakota to come together in a performance."

 Bangasser concurred.  "The thought of sharing the stage with an international star like Samuel Ramey as well as with some of my very own USD professors completely thrills me," she said.

 While the opera will be sung in German with English supertitles, the spoken dialogue will be in English.

 Additional information can be obtained at www.soundsofsouthdakota.org.

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