Encouraged by the success of Madama Butterfly at Youngstown State University and a dinner theater production of La Traviata presented by the Youngstown Opera Guild in Stambaugh Auditorium’s Grand Ballroom, a dedicated group of opera lovers decided to create Youngstown’s own opera company. Invited by Stambaugh Auditorium to present their productions on the main stage, Opera Western Reserve made its debut with a fully-staged production of I Pagliacci on November 12, 2004. The fledgling company was fortunate enough to attract the talents of Susan Davenny Wyner, conductor of the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra and with a background that included singing with the Metropolitan Opera Company, to become its musical director. David Vosburgh, whose credits included both opera and Broadway musicals and was directing the spring operas at Youngstown State University, came on board as Production Director.
The mission of Opera Western Reserve was to create a professional company that was truly regional in its outreach. Singers residing in the Western Reserve area, which included Northeastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, were to be given priority in casting. Collaborations with other arts organizations such as Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music, The Youngstown Connection, The Girard City Schools Youth Chorus, The Stambaugh Chorus, Ballet Western Reserve, and Salem Youth Chorus have been fostered. The artistic and support staff continues to be drawn from local theater artists and craftsmen.
As Opera Western Reserve considers itself primarily an educational institution, the creation of a Young Artists Company has been very important. This troupe of six to eight singers and accompanists take their educational outreach program, Fun with Opera, to schools in the Tri-county area. This program has been completely underwritten and is offered at no charge. These singers also appear in concert for various local organizations and play supporting roles in our Main Stage productions.
Opera Western Reserve continues to be extremely grateful for the financial and in-kind support it has received and for the ever-increasing attendance of its audiences. The quality and scope of its productions, and the caliber of talent it has been able to attract, many of whom have taken their experience with Opera Western Reserve to engagements with larger companies nationally, testifies to the success of this company in affording opportunities to emerging singers and contributing to the quality of life in the Mahoning Valley.
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