Grammy winner to appear with Dayton Opera this weekend

Acclaimed soprano Angel Blue, who made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2017 as Mimi in "La Boheme" and recently won a Grammy nomination for her performance as Bess on the Metropolitan Opera's recording of "Gershwin: Porgy and Bess," will give the Dayton Opera Star Recital Sunday, March 28 at the Schuster Center.
Acclaimed soprano Angel Blue, who made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2017 as Mimi in "La Boheme" and recently won a Grammy nomination for her performance as Bess on the Metropolitan Opera's recording of "Gershwin: Porgy and Bess," will give the Dayton Opera Star Recital Sunday, March 28 at the Schuster Center.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

The March 28 recital featuring Angel Blue will honor artistic director Thomas Bankston

Soprano Angel Blue, who a week ago accepted the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording, will make her first live appearance since the pandemic at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center on Sunday afternoon, March 28. Blue, who portrayed Bess in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of “Porgy and Bess,” excitedly accepted the Grammy on behalf of the Met, dedicating the award to two members of the cast who have passed away.

ExploreTop six uplifting stories from the Miami Valley this week

The Opera Star Recital, which will also be available to stream, will honor Thomas Bankston, the artistic director of the Dayton Opera, who is marking his 25th anniversary with the company and will retire in June.

Pianist Catherine Miller will accompany soprano Angel Blue at the Dayton Opera’s upcoming recital. CONTRIBUTED
Pianist Catherine Miller will accompany soprano Angel Blue at the Dayton Opera’s upcoming recital. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: JOANNA DEGENERES PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: JOANNA DEGENERES PHOTOGRAPHY

The Dayton program will showcase a wide-ranging repertoire from composers of opera and song literature, including European composers Strauss, Marx and Rachmaninoff and American composers Copland and Hoiby, as well as African American spirituals. Collaborating with Blue will be pianist Catherine Miller, a member of the music staff at San Diego Opera and the musical director for the Mentoris Vocal Competition.

Blue, who has performed in over 35 countries in the last six years, made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2017 as Mimi in La Boheme.

She says the venues that have meant the most to her are the places that remind her of her father, a minister who introduced her to singing and to some of those renowned halls. They include the Royal Opera House/Covent Garden in London, the Met in New York and Teatro alla Scala in Milan Italy. She has also performed inside a cave in Gibraltar and in the Italian Alps.

ExploreOne of the largest tulip displays in the Midwest is about to bloom in Cincinnati

Blue, who grew up in Los Angeles, is an alumna of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts where she studied voice and classical piano. A former Miss Hollywood, Blue used her pageant winnings to finance her education. She was mentored by legendary tenor Placido Domingo who she met when she was in the first year of her master’s degree program at UCLA. Domingo has described her as “the next Leontyne Price.”

Blue has had a season ticket to Disneyland since she was 14, and has said the biggest misconception about opera singers is that they’re arrogant and divas, and that they don’t want to talk to people.

She believes it’s very important for a singer to restore herself, citing the role of Bess as an example. “Bess is tormented by the demons she faces due to her choices in life and her circumstances,” Blue says. “It is intense, difficult and thrilling to portray that person and then to convey her emotions in my singing. After the performance you need to be able to leave that behind, go home and be yourself when you are done.”

Thomas Bankston, artistic director of the Dayton Opera, is being honored at the upcoming Star Recital. He has been with the company for 25 years and will be retiring in June. CONTRIBUTED
Thomas Bankston, artistic director of the Dayton Opera, is being honored at the upcoming Star Recital. He has been with the company for 25 years and will be retiring in June. CONTRIBUTED

Honoring Bankston

Kathleen Clawson, who will become the artistic director of the Dayton Opera when Bankston retires, has worked with him since 2009 as stage director for 15 performances. Concurrent with her time in Dayton, she has worked for the Santa Fe Opera.

“Tom has an incredible ear for singers and as a singer himself he recognizes and seeks greatness,” she says. “He has brought nationally recognized singers to Dayton Opera and Angel Blue is a perfect example. She is one of the reigning sopranos in opera today and to have her sing in Dayton is quite a coup. He’s also one of the most generous people I’ve ever met, supportive and inspiring. Throughout the industry he is recognized not only as an authority, but as somebody with highest standards professionally and artistically.”

Bankston says he has loved opera since his high school days when he saw a touring production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” presented by the Metropolitan Opera’s second company. “It planted a seed that grew and grew,” he recalls. “My family was not particularly followers or attendees of opera but I gained experience when I was an undergrad and was turned on to opera by singing and doing it.”

ExploreDayton Performing Arts Alliance schedules new shows

Prior to his professional move into the world of arts administration, Bankston sang as an operatic baritone appearing with Pittsburgh Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Pittsburgh Chamber Opera Theater and Whitewater Opera. He is also a sought-after adjudicator for vocal competitions throughout the region and was honored by the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music with its Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Bankston estimates he’s either seen or produced hundreds of operas over his 40 year career. Before coming to Dayton, he spent 19 years with Cincinnati Opera. Among the highlights in Dayton, he says, are the opening production of “Aida” at the Schuster Center and the heralded production of “Madame Butterfly” in 2006, designed by the famous Japanese designer, Jun Kaneko.

Retiring, Bankston says, is bittersweet.

“I have put my heart and soul into trying to make this a great company,” says Bankston. “To sit in the hall and know I’ve had a part in assembling all of the elements that come together to create a production is so meaningful.”

He’s also proud of the opportunities he’s been able to provide to more than 85 young singers through the Dayton Opera’s artist-in-residence program. “It’s meaningful to know I’ve had a part in shaping their careers.”

HOW TO GO

What: Dayton Opera’s Star Recital featuring soprano Angel Blue.

When: 3 p.m., Sunday, March 28

Where: Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton. A livestream option is also available.

Tickets: $50 for the live Schuster performance; $25 for the livestream option. Patrons can also become a DPAA Virtual Streams member which, depending on the membership level ($100, $250 or $500), provides access to all DPAA Reimagined Season live and recorded performances, as well as some 2020 streams, artist Q&As, behind-the-scenes videos and bonus performances. Tickets are available at Ticket Center Stage, (937) 228-3630 or online at www.daytonperformingarts.org.

In Other News