• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Met Bass Ildar Abdrazakov

    Opera Lively interviewed via Skype [Opera Lively interview # 65] the very successful Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov, who has had excellent performances in some of the most prestigious opera houses, including the current title roles in Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni back to back from October through December 2012 at the Metropolitan Opera House, where he was also seen alongside Anna Netrebko last season in Anna Bolena as Henry VIII, and with Anna as well in Lucia di Lamermoor a few seasons back (the DVD of the former had a different casting, but the DVD of the latter does have Ildar alongside Anna). It's about time that we pay more attention to this gifted singer. Questions by Mary Auer and Luiz Gazzola0.

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    All the portraits below are being used with authorization from the singer's publicist who sent us the pictures, credited to Dario Acosta. The production pictures for Le Nozze di Figaro were kindly sent by the Met Press Department and are credited to Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.

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    © Dario Acosta

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    Singer: Ildar Abdrazakov
    Born in: Ufa, Republic of Bashkiria, Russian Federation, on 26 September 1976
    Fach: Bass (lyric and buffo roles)
    Currently in: Le Nozze di Figaro, title role, Metropolitan Opera House - October 26, 29; November 3, 7, 10, 13, 17, 2012. Tickets [here]
    Next in: Don Giovanni, title role, Metropolitan Opera House - November 28, December 1, 5, 8, 11, 15, 20, 2012. Tickets [here]

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    Artistic Biography and other facts:

    Ildar Abdrazakov [ahb-drah-ZAH-koff] is a bass of “sturdy, dark” and “muscular” voice (New York Times) whose star is very much on the rise; since making his La Scala debut in 2001 at the young age of 25, the Russian singer has become a mainstay in leading roles at some of the world’s most storied houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, and Vienna State Opera. His powerful yet refined voice coupled with his compelling stage presence have prompted critics to hail the two-time Grammy Award-winner as a “sensational bass…who has just about everything – imposing sound, beautiful legato, oodles of finesse” (Independent). Also an active concert artist, he has performed at London’s BBC Proms and at Carnegie Hall, as well as with leading international orchestras including the Chicago Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic.

    Biographical information:

    · Born 26 September 1976 in Ufa, then capital of Soviet republic of Bashkiria
    · On graduating from Ufa State Institute of Arts, he joined Bashkirian Opera and Ballet Theatre

    Career highlights:

    · 1998: Mariinsky Theater debut as title role in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro; in 2000 joined Mariinksy Opera Company; debut at La Scala in early 2001; Met debut in 2004
    · 2004-5: at La Scala, he joined Ricardo Muti in concert for reopening of theatre; that same season he sang Moses in a production of Rossini’s Moses and Pharaoh recorded and released on CD and DVD
    · 2008-09: headlined new production of Verdi’s Attila at Met
    · 2009: London’s Royal Opera House debut
    · 2009: Salzburg Festival debut as Rossini’s Moses in new production
    · 2011-12: Henry VIII (role debut) in Met’s new season-opening production of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena

    2012-13 season highlights

    · Oct – Dec: Title roles in two Mozart operas at Met: Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni
    · Don Giovanni in returns to Washington National Opera (Sep 20-Oct 7) and Vienna State Opera (March 2-10)
    · Jan 2013: Sings in Prokofiev’s Ivan the Terrible in Berlin and is featured performer in Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s 50th birthday gala concerts in St. Petersburg and Moscow
    · Feb 2013: Don Basilio in Bayerische Staatsoper’s production of The Barber of Seville
    · April 2013: King Philip in Verdi’s Don Carlo with Torino Opera at home and on tour in Paris


    © Dario Acosta

    What the critics are saying:

    “[A] sensational bass who has just about everything - imposing sound, beautiful legato, oodles of finesse. I can't remember when I last heard the role so magnificently sung." — The Independent

    “Young, good-looking and the owner of a fabulous bass voice… [His voice] has a sweet-toned, lyric sheen that is ideal for the bel canto repertoire, but he can summon up the rougher, darker timbre necessary for the nastier characters in the bass spectrum.” — Opera

    “A bass of elegance and unforced resonance” New York Times

    “A sturdy, dark and rich voice that carries well. Yet it was the refinement and clarity of his singing … that made him so moving.” — New York Times

    “The discovery of the evening was Ildar Abdrazakov, whose intriguing Slavic bass plumbed the somber depths of his music with real commitment.” — Chicago Tribune

    Interesting facts

    · Since 2007, he has been an ambassador for Zegna & Music project, a philanthropic initiative founded in 1997 by Ermenegildo Zegna to promote music and its values
    · Traces his lineage back to Genghis Khan
    · As Riccardo Muti has been so influential in his career, he calls the Italian maestro “father”
    · An avid golfer: in 2008, got a hole-in-one on 7th hole (143 yds) at Centennial Golf Club in Carmel, NY
    · An exercise buff, he goes to the gym several times a week to lift weights and do cardio
    · His first name in Bashkir means “gift to country” (Il=country, dar=gift)
    · His surname in Bashkir means “Slave of God” (Abd=slave, razack=God); the “ov” was added by the communists

    Award highlights and international media recognition


    • Oscar della Lirica Award (2012)
    • Grammy Awards for “Best Classical Album” and “Best Choral Performance” for Verdi’s Requiem with Muti and Chicago Symphony (2010)
    • Grand Prix at V International Maria Callas Competition Nuove voci per Verdi (Parma, 2000)
    • Grand Prix at International Elena Obraztsova Competition (St Petersburg, 1999)
    • Grand Prix at International Rimsky-Korsakov Competition (St Petersburg, 1998)
    • Prize Winner at televised Irina Arkhipova Moscow Grand Prix Competition (1997)
    • Recipient of first prize at XVII International Glinka Competition (Moscow, 1997)
    • Honored Artist of Republic of Bashkortostan


    Abdrazakov’s 2012-13 engagements:

    Sep 1, 2 Mozart and Salieri – Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, Salzburg, Austria
    Sep 20, 22, 26, 29, Oct 1, 4, 7 Don Giovanni – Washington National Opera, Washington, DC
    Oct 29, Nov 3, 7, 10, 13, 17 Le nozze di Figaro – Metropolitan Opera, New York, NY
    Nov 28, Dec 1, 5, 8, 11, 15, 20 Don Giovanni – Metropolitan Opera, New York, NY
    Jan 12, 13 Ivan the Terrible – Deutsche Symphony Orchestra, Berlin, Germany
    Jan 23 Dmitri Hvorostovsky 50th birthday gala, St. Petersburg, Russia
    Jan 26 Dmitri Hvorostovsky 50th birthday gala, Moscow, Russia
    Feb 9, 12, 14, 16 Il barbiere di Siviglia – Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, Germany
    March 2, 5, 7, 10 Don Giovanni – Vienna State Opera, Vienna, Austria
    April 10, 12, 14, 17, 21 Don Carlo – Torino Opera, Torino, Italy
    April 28 Concert performance of Don Carlo – Torino Opera, Paris, France

    Singer's official web site, Facebook page, and Twitter feed:

    http://ildarabdrazakov.com

    http://www.facebook.com/IldarAbdrazakov

    https://twitter.com/IldarAbdrazakov

    Singer's Discography:

    It is incorporated within the interview for five of his recordings, and his other five are at the end of this article. We have included all Amazon.com links to his CDs and DVDs.

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    © Dario Acosta

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    The Opera Lively Exclusive Interview with Ildar Abdrazakov

    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

    Opera Lively - Let’s start by talking a little about your background. You were born in Ufa, in the Republic of Bashkiria, which was also the birthplace of the great dancer, Rudolf Nureyev. Your father was a stage and film director, and your mother was a painter. So it sounds as though there were many creative influences in your life when you were growing up, both at home and in the community.

    Ildar Abdrazakov – Yes, growing up in that environment was fun. My father’s place of work was just a few yards from home, so I was always there. My mother’s on the other hand was one hour away, she had to take the bus to go there, and as a matter of fact I saw her work only once. I went there once, and there she was, in that big pavilion, painting. I can’t say it impressed me very much. My father’s work, however, was fascinating for me. I mean, it was the TV, and the theater, and there were stage directors and singers and actors, I loved to watch and be in touch with all of that. When I was four years old my father gave me a part in a Christmas musical that he was directing.

    OL – Four years old? Wow! How big was the part; were you a character in the show?

    IA – Oh, it was a small part. It wasn’t even a real speaking part. I just had to come in, say Hello, and move around. I was in for just a few minutes.

    OL – Music was important in your family, right? I know that your family enjoyed singing traditional Bashkir songs, and your father played the violin.

    IA – Yes, he played the violin, accordion, mandolin, and piano. But he never formally studied music. He was never in a conservatory. He learned it all by himself.

    OL – Did he love opera?

    IA – He loved music, but opera, I don’t think so. But he learned to love it once my brother Askar, who is also an opera singer, started to sing in the small opera house we had in Ufa. I used to go watch the operas with my dad, when my brother performed.

    OL – I see. So, you developed an interest in the art of singing because of your brother?

    IA – Yes, it was thanks to my brother. He is seven and a half years older than me, so when I was in grade school my brother was already in a conservatory. He would come home and sing all day long, from the morning until the night. I enjoyed listening to him, and then one day I thought, “hm, maybe I could sing, also!”

    OL – How old were you when this happened?

    IA – I was thirteen years old when I got interested. One year later, at age fourteen, I started to take singing lessons with my brother’s teacher, but just once a week, because I was still too young. Later I got into the same conservatory and studied formally with the same teacher.

    OL – Were you already sure at the time that you wanted to be an opera singer?

    IA – Actually my first idea was to either sing choral music with the philharmonic orchestra there, or to sing pop music. But then I started to sing in the chorus at the opera house, and things evolved from there. At the time, I never thought that one day I’d be singing at La Scala, at Covent Garden, and other countries. I started to sing small roles at our local opera house. As a matter of fact I wasn’t even expecting that I’d go to Moscow or Saint Petersburg! But then I started to win competitions, and while competing, I met all these people who had sung for the major opera houses, and they told me that I had a good voice and should audition for the opera houses. And then I auditioned for Maestro Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky Theater, and he accepted me.

    OL – Maestro Gergiev is coming to my town this Monday. He is here to play Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring with the Mariinsky Orchestra.

    IA – Yes, I know. I spoke with him today and he told me about his tour in America.

    OL – So, your first name, Ildar, means Gift to the Country in your language. Did it become a reality? Are you a celebrity in your homeland?

    IA – Yes, yes, they know me, especially in Ufa. When I go back there and go out with my friends to restaurants and other places, they do recognize me.

    OL – Nice! Does it get to be intrusive?

    IA – No, the people from my home town love me and they wish me well; they follow my career and say beautiful things to me.

    OL – How important was your time at the Bashkirian Opera House in your development as a singer?

    IA – It was essential for me to develop in a low-pressure environment and to become more secure as a singer. I started by singing small parts, like Zuniga in Carmen, or Don Basilio in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and several small parts in Russian opera. It was like being in an opera studio for me. I worked a lot with great stage directors there, and great conductors, while at the same time I had my teacher there very close, and she could tell me what was good and what was not, for my voice. She supported me a lot.

    OL - At the age of 22, you made your debut at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. You were singing Figaro in a production of Le Nozze di Figaro, and your Susanna was a young soprano named Anna Netrebko. Tell me about it.

    IA – Working with her was very special. Of course, at that time, no one knew who Anna Netrebko was (laughs). It was in 1998. She was a regular person; not the big star that she is now. At the time we were good friends. We worked a lot together, and partied together, went to restaurants; we spent a lot of time together.

    OL – And then after she became famous you continued to work with her, and just recently, last year, did Anna Bolena at the Met with her. I was there, by the way; I saw you on stage, and liked what you did.

    IA – Oh, thank you.

    OL – So how is it, to work with her now that she is so famous?

    IA – Oh, she is the same! She is so interesting, and so funny, I love her. I’m very happy to work with her, and very happy for her and her big career. It is a lot of fun for me, to think that I’ve worked with her from the beginning when she was starting her career in Russia, all the way until now at the Met when she is such a star!

    OL – I think it is a pity that out of 381 opera productions this season in the United States, there is only one Russian opera – a single production of Eugene Onegin. In recent years there were more, like Boris Godunov or Khovanshchina, but currently there is only one scheduled. Is there a way for you as a Russian singer to try and change this situation, to promote Russian opera in some way?

    IA – No, it’s not really something that a singer has control of. It’s really up to the opera house managers, conductors, and stage directors. For me, it would be even more difficult to have an influence on this, because ever since I left Russia, I stopped singing the Russian repertory, for a long time. Only this past March, a few months ago, I had my first opportunity to sing Russian opera outside of Russia – I did a Khovanshchina. So, there is only one Eugene Onegin this season, huh? I don’t know why. Maybe it is because of the Verdi and Wagner bicentennials; they may be paying less attention to Russian opera. Well, at least we had a recent a production of Boris Godunov that was given in different opera houses in the world, the same production. That was good.

    OL – Do you see many differences in the professional environment between Russian houses and Western opera houses?

    IA – I think the main difference has to do with how the administration of the opera house operates and deals with the singers. The Mariinsky is my home, I love the Mariinsky and feel comfortable there, but in some other opera houses which I won’t name, it wasn't the same thing. They’d hire you, and would tell you, “OK, you’re here to sing this role, and the rest of your time, you’re on your own.” Over here at the Met they make you feel really comfortable; they call you and ask you if you need something, they inquire whether there is any way they can somehow help you… Covent Garden is like this as well, they make you feel at home.

    OL – What about the audiences, do you see differences as well?

    IA – Yes, of course. The mentality of the audiences is very different, in different countries. The Russians want a big voice. If you have a big voice, that’s good, it doesn't matter how you sing. In Italy, the preference of the Italians is more linked to how you sing, to your musical phrasing, and whether or not you fit the style of the composer – there is a style for Verdi, a style for Mozart, and they’ll require that. Also, if you have any small vocal failure – say, you have some congestion and your throat scratches a little – the Italians will immediately boo you. American audiences are generous. They come to watch and have fun, they want to enjoy the opera; that’s amazing and is beautiful. They don’t boo if you make a mistake – maybe they’ll applaud less. I never heard boos in America; singing here is more comfortable.

    OL - During the late ‘90s, you won several important voice competitions. Probably the one which had the greatest impact on your career was the 2000 Maria Callas International Television Competition in Parma, since it led to your recital debut at La Scala a few months later. That must have been quite an experience. You were 25 years old, and you were singing in one of the world’s most famous opera houses. How did you feel? Were you nervous at all?

    IA – Yes, that was a very special moment. First, I did not want to participate in that competition. But my friends and the people who supported my career insisted that I had to go. They said, “you must go, this competition is good for your voice, you will win, you will take the grand prix.” I said OK, auditioned for it, and they invited me. There were three elimination rounds. These three rounds took four months, because they had 673 competitors - lots, lots of singers and just one prize. And I did it all, and survived all the rounds, and when the jury said that I had won, I thought I was dreaming, it was unreal! (laughs)

    OL – And then you went to La Scala, and your career took off.

    IA – Yes, three months later I was at La Scala, and my European career went very well. And then in 2004 I had my Met debut.

    OL – Yes, as Masetto in Don Giovanni, right?

    IA – Yes, exactly.

    OL – So, let’s talk about Mozart a little bit. Now you are one of the world’s leading interpreters of the role of Don Giovanni. What comments can you make about singing Mozart?

    IA – You know, people say that Mozart is honey for the voice, but I don’t really agree. I think that singing Mozart is more difficult than it seems, especially because now we have to sing it in huge houses with a complete orchestra. In Mozart’s time, the orchestras had half the number of instruments of a modern orchestra, or less. So, one could sing with half voice as well… not anymore. For me, it’s difficult. I need to warm up my voice for twenty to twenty five minutes to sing Mozart. Another difficulty is that Mozart’s operas are very active. In many Verdi operas you can stand there on stage and breath and sing. In Mozart, you have to be moving all the time. You need to warm up not only your voice, but your body too!

    OL - Please tell us about the Nozze di Figaro production by Jonathan Miller at the Met, in which you’ll be singing the title role.


    The current Le Nozze di Figaro production at the Met, with Ildar © Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera

    IA – The first performance is tomorrow [10-26-2012]. It’s a beautiful production, very stylish. The sets and costumes are beautiful, I like it. It’s not a modern production. I did Figaro many times, and as a matter of fact, traditionalist stagings of it don’t change very much, they are similar.


    Ildar as Figaro, and Mojca Erdmann as Suzanna © Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera

    OL – The production of Anna Bolena at the Met was a very traditional staging, with costumes that were influenced by Hans Holbein’s portraits of Henry VIII and his wives. [See a gorgeous video clip of it with Ildar and Anna, at the end of this article]. With your family background in theater and film, you are very knowledgeable on the subject of theatrical productions. Do you prefer more traditional stagings? Or, do you like the more avant-garde productions?

    IA – I prefer traditional, beautiful productions. I do like modern productions but they need to be intelligent. Last time I did I Vespri Siciliani in Turin, it was an updated production to our time, but it was beautiful as well, respecting the story. I believe you can see it on YouTube; look it up, I think if you see it you’ll agree with me.

    OL – OK, I will. And then, right after this one, you have Don Giovanni in the Michael Grandage production at the Met. Is it difficult to be in two title roles at the Met in a row?

    IA – No, these operas are not difficult for me even when they come one after the other like this, because I’ve done them many times. Just a few days ago I sang Don Giovanni in Washington, now I’m doing Figaro, and then Don Giovanni again. So it’s just a question of getting to know my new colleagues and putting everything together, but it is not difficult.


    Ildar as Figaro, and Mojca Erdmann as Suzanna © Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera

    OL - With a few exceptions, opera’s handsome young heroes are tenors – or countertenors, in Baroque opera. Basses typically sing the roles of villains or the Devil, fathers or old men, or buffo characters like Mustafa or Don Pasquale. Do you ever wish that, just once, you could be the handsome guy who gets the girl?

    IA – (laughs) No, I actually prefer the dramatic complexity of the bass roles. See Moïse et Pharaon for example, it is interesting to play a man such as Moïse, this patriotic strong character. I prefer the deep characters. But sometimes I also feel very good in the buffo roles. For example, L’Italiana in Algeri is one of my favorite operas. I love to play Mustafa, he’s a great character and very funny. I love acting on stage.

    OL – L'Italian in Algeri is indeed a gem, and very funny. So, you like the multi-dimensional characters.

    IA – Yes, yes, and it is not only that. It’s also because their music is beautiful.

    OL - As you look forward to the progression of your career in the years ahead, do you have any interest in singing roles in the German repertoire – Sarastro, Rocco, Kaspar, some of Wagner’s bass roles?

    IA – (laughs) No, I don’t see my voice going that way. I’m more into bel canto with its legato. Besides, I don’t speak German and I find that language very difficult. I like the French repertory as well. I like the roles that have lots of color. It is important to me to understand all words in the libretto, and I can do this with Italian and French, but not with German.

    OL – By the way, congratulations on the two Grammy Awards that you won for Verdi’s Requiem in the categories of Best Classical Recording and Best Choral Performance, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Riccardo Muti released by CSO-Resound. Are there any more recordings planned that we can look forward to?

    IA – Thank you. I would love to record more in the future. I have several ideas I am considering, but currently there is nothing concrete planned.

    OL – Let’s talk about some of your other recordings. They include Rossini Discoveries with unpublished arias by Rossini (conducted by Riccardo Chailly, Decca), Messa Solenne by Cherubini (Bayerische Rundfunk Orchestra under Riccardo Muti, EMI Classics), Shostakovich's Words of Michelangelo (BBC Philharmonic under Noseda, Chandos) as well as Rossini's opera Moïse et Pharaon (orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala under Riccardo Muti) which came out on both CD and DVD. Which one did you like most, to perform and record?




    [Amazon.com links for the five recordings above, respectively (here); (here); (here); (here), and (here) - see more recordings with Ildar at the end of this article]

    IA – You know, I don’t really have any favorites. I’ve listened to them just once. As a matter of fact I don’t like to listen to myself on recording. (laughs)

    OL – Really? (laughs) You don’t like to listen to yourself?

    IA – No, I don’t. (laughs)

    OL – That’s interesting. And how do you select what you record?

    IA – Again, it’s a question of conductors. They invite me. I don’t get much say in whether we’ll do this or that. They invite me and say “let’s do this program” and I say yes and feel very happy about it.

    OL – Would you tell us a bit about yourself as a person? What do you like to do in your spare time?

    IA – I like to play golf. I enjoy going outdoors for barbecue with my friends. I like the beach and swimming at sea. I go jogging on Central Park and go to the gym. And of course I love to spend time with my children, but I don’t have enough time for it; I end up only spending a few days with them. My youngest is nine; will be ten years old in January.

    OL – Do they like music, and do they come to see you on stage?

    IA – Yes, they do, they come to see me, and they love music. My son plays the piano.

    OL – Are you a more reserved person, or are you easygoing?

    IA – I’m very easygoing.

    OL - You are still very young at 36. How do you deal with fame? Is it disturbing in any way?

    IA – No, not really. I love what I do. I prepare my parts, rehearse, and go sing them on stage. I don’t allow myself to get all impressed and say “wow!” I try to think of it as my work, and I just go and do it. I’m very happy with it all.

    OL – OK, thank you so much! Like I said I’ve seen you on stage in Anna Bolena, and you’re a great singer; I look forward to seeing you again in a future opportunity.

    IA – Thank you. All the best!

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    © Dario Acosta

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    Let's listen to the singer in Anna Bolena, alongside Anna Netrebko, as Henry VIII; this is a great clip with all singers performing with the highest standards:



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    Additional Discography:

    Other than the recordings mentioned above in our interview, Ildar has appeared as well on these DVDs and this CD:










    Amazon.com links for the above, respectively:
    (here); (here); (here); (here), and (here)

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    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      I've heard Mr. Abdrazakov singing live a few roles. I have a soft spot for this recording:

    1. Yige's Avatar
      Yige -
      Another good interview! One small thing: its seems the "Rossini Discoveries with unpublished arias by Rossini (conducted by Riccardo Muti, Decca)" is in fact conducted by Riccardo Chailly, as I read from the picture.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      You are right, Yige, thank you, it's been corrected.


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