Toledo Opera selects resident artists for 2020-21

Published Thursday, April 30, 2020
by Wayne F. Anthony


The Toledo Opera Association released the list of its resident artists for the 2020-21 season this week. Four talented young performers were selected from 173 applicants in a rigorous audition process.

The four will serve as touring artists for the Opera On Wheels program which travels extensively through the area visiting local educational institutions and bringing live opera to the furthest reaches of our area. Annually the program touches 22,000 students from Findlay to Ann Arbor and Sandusky to Archbold.

This season, the traveling production will be a newly created children’s opera, which sources its music from Mozart’s operas Cosi fan Tutte and The Marriage of FigaroJoshua Borths of Capital University is adapting the scores and writing the libretto.

James M. Norman, TO’s Director of Artistic Administration and Production and Artistic Director of the Opera On Wheels program will direct the production.

The selected theme for the outreach is anti-bullying, friendship, and examining the way children behave toward each other — using art to model proper life skills for successful social interactions.

Although the Opera on Wheels program was sidelined this spring in response to the coronavirus guidelines for education, the hope is to re-launch the program in mid-October with touring through mid-November, and a spring tour commencing in mid-April through May of 2021.

The Resident Artists will also sing smaller roles in the TO’s mainstage productions of Aida, The Merry Widow, and The Grand Tour which are slated for this season.

The artists selected include soprano Grace Wipfli, mezzo-soprano Olivia Johnson, and baritone Andrew Payne. Pianist Emily Morin will serve as music director and pianist for the ensemble for a second year with the program.

Toledo native Wipfli is a Master’s graduate of Northwestern University. In 2019 she received and Encouragement Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions in the Wisconsin District and recently completed a Summer Concert Residency with the Florentine Opera in Milwaukee, Wis. She states that she is “overjoyed to be returning to her hometown as an Artist for the 20-21 season.”

Johnson, a resident of the Detroit area, originally hailing from Jacksonville, N.C. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master’s and has appeared with the Michigan Opera Theatre and Opera MODO. She took first place in the 2017 National Vocal Arts Competition for Emerging Artists and recently attended the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria.

Payne is also a Master’s graduate of Northwestern University with roots in Waynesboro, Pa. Recently he appeared in a world premier of a London production of The Mad Hatter, and won first place in the Opera Idol competition hosted by Sherrill Milnes. He will be attending the Milnes Voice Studio in Savannah, Ga. this summer. He, as well, “is excited to begin his post-graduate life and career with the wonderful company that is the Toledo Opera.”

Pianist Morin resides in Maumee, but has been active in performances across the U.S. and abroad. In past summers she has participated in the soundSCAPE Composition and Performance Exchange in Cesena, Italy, the Corfu Summer Piano Institute in Corfu, Greece, and the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival in Amalfi, Italy. She holds her Master’s degree from Bowling Green State University.

According to TO Executive Director Suzanne Rorick, “Our Resident Artist program is one of the most exciting features we offer as an organization. The Toledo Opera has been the starting bedrock of a number of today’s most sought-after performers, and we are proud to be such driving influence of the edge of opera in the 21st century.”

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