Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Diamonds and Denim: Uncorked

Swirl it, smell it, sip it. There's nothing like a fine wine in your glass, especially if you're sharing a bottle with fine friends.

Toledo Opera Guild members Barbara Baker and Diane Rusk, along with Marcy McMahon, have done an amazing job gathering more than 150 bottles of wine from all over the world to stock the Wine Cellar sale at the Diamonds and Denim event Nov. 8 at the Toledo Club downtown.

Dom Perignon dipped in
dark chocolate and decorated
with dried lemon peel.
Proceeds directly benefit the Toledo Opera, but winning bottle bidders will be rewarded with exquisite elixirs. Some bottles retail for a few hundred dollars. Notable offerings include:
  • Rhone Valley Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Reserve - Domaine du Pega
  • Bordeaux - Pauillac - Chateau Pichon Lalande
  • Burgundy - Nuits St. Georges, Les Boudots (Premiere Cru) - Domaine Jean Grivot
A full list of wines will be available after the "stellar cellar" committee has organized the bottles into lots. The sale will be conducted by silent auction.

Two bottles definitely will look different than the others, for they are dipped in chocolate! Bliss in a Bottle, of Columbus, creates these treats, and generous donations to the guild's event have purchased Dom Perignon in nut-studded chocolate and Le Grand Courtage Brut Rose in dried strawberry-flecked white chocolate.

When checking out these tables laden with wine, don't miss the framed linen map of France's wine and cheese production. That too will be available for sale.

The Diamonds and Denim wine cellar will be an amazing opportunity for you to add to your collection, give someone else a lovely holiday gift, and support the Toledo Opera.

While cash bars will be open for your wine needs during the party, the first 100 guests will be treated to a complimentary glass of champagne. This flute, however, will hold more than bubbles. Inside each glass will be a loose gem, one of which will be a real diamond from Jeffrey Mann Fine Jewelers! A jeweler will be at a table in the Centennial Room to examine your stone and discover whether you are the lucky winner.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary of business in the Toledo area this year, Jeffrey Mann has been a longtime supporter of the Toledo Opera Guild. Thank you!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Diamonds and Denim: Tattooed on Two Wheels

Paul Teutul Sr., left, and Paul Teutel Jr. of Orange County Choppers.

You too can look like this, if you just support the Toledo Opera.

Wait ... what?

That's right! The Toledo Opera Guild is mixing it up again with its fall fundraiser, which this year is Diamonds and Denim on Nov. 8 at the Toledo Club.

At the party, guests will be able to get free temporary tattoos from Toledo Tattoo Company artists. Your bicep could boast "I <3 Opera" or a giant diamond. Don't worry, it will wash off the next day with a little soap and water. Of course, your real love of opera will never fade!

Toledo Tattoo is a locally owned shop that has been in business for 35 years. If you want some permanent ink, stop by its consolidated Point Place location. Artists Bill Klocinski, Curtis Ely, Kodi Klocinski, Deano Davis and Justin Phillips promise to give you "just damn good tattoos."

If you want to imagine what it would be like to feel the wind in your hair on the open road, climb onto a custom Chopper motorcycle on a photo stage in the club's Centennial Room. A photographer from Grand Lubell Photography will print your portrait for a small fee.

The bike is the literal prized possession of Charlie Fehrenbach of Charlies' Automotive in Liberty Center. He and wife Rhonda won it at a NAPA convention in Las Vegas. The motorcycle was specially made by Orange County Choppers, a custom shop of reality television fame "American Choppers" and "Orange County Choppers," and bears the signatures of the designers.

The Fehrenbachs made a few modifications to the Chopper, including a seat for two. They've enjoyed 35,000 miles on it, although one can go only so far at a time. "It's a short trip bike," Rhonda Fehrenbach said.

Charlies' Automotive -- named for father and son of the same name -- has been servicing vehicles from cars and trucks to boats and buses since 1988. It is a certified NAPA Auto Care Center and Jasper preferred engine installer.

Charles Fehrenbach III has been working with his dad for 24 years and also is a master ASC-certified tech. Youngest son Gary started working in the shop on County Road A just this year. Mechanic Mike Lusher's specialty is front-end work, as well as steering and suspension. Rhonda Fehrenbach shares duties in the business office and in the garage.

Think an automotive mechanic garage is an odd place to find love of classic arts? Not so! Employee Sariah Shutts, who has been in the business office for eight years, is a dance instructor and also has worked for Toledo's former Fred Astaire dance studio, the Ballroom Company and the Toledo Ballet.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

UT to Present Three Opera Selections at Tavern

Ever feel like you need a pint of beer while listening to opera? Here's your perfect chance.

The University of Toledo Opera Ensemble will present its fall program, "An American Triptych," this coming week and weekend at the Blarney Irish Pub in downtown Toledo.

The three selections include Henry Mollicone's "The Face on the Barroom Floor," Samuel Barber's "A Hand of Bridge," and Seymour Barab's "A Game of Chance."

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23 and 24 and 4 p.m. Oct. 26. Tickets are $12.50 in advance and $10-$15 at the door. For tickets and information, call 419-530-2448 or visit

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Toledo Opera Honors Sanford with Dinner, 'Tosca' Performances

Conductor James Meena (standing, at left) expresses appreciation for
Ann Sanford's 20 years as a Toledo Opera trustee at a dinner Friday
in the Corinthian dining room at the Toledo Club.

Ann Sanford not only takes the cake, she also gives it.

At the post-performance reception Friday for "Tosca" cast and audience members, the off-stage star of the evening demonstrated the selflessness and charitable nature for which she had been lauded by cutting and serving the sheet cake frosted with a bouquet of roses herself.

The Toledo Opera staged the 2014 production of "Tosca" in Sanford's honor for her 20 years of board service and unwavering support of the organization.

Sanford shares
her appreciation.
Friends and opera fans also gathered earlier Friday evening at the Toledo Club, where notable folks shared their gratitude for Sanford and the caliber of production that the Toledo Opera is able to present to the community.

"So goes the Toledo Opera, so goes the nation's operas," stage director Michael Capasso said.

Toledo Opera executive director Suzanne Rorick noted that Sanford was personally responsible for introducing many people to opera, inviting them to performances and events. Rorick expressed deep appreciation for Sanford's straight-forward communication and commitment, as well as her friendship.

Sanford told the assembled guests that she was flattered by the attention but saw herself as one of many who worked together to promote the Toledo Opera. She said opera was a family, and that she had done only what one would do for brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, and children who would carry on the tradition.

Ann Sanford serves cake with the help of Karen DeNune in
the Red Room at the Toledo Club.
In her letter in the "Tosca" program, Sanford encouraged people to volunteer. "Join the chorus, the Opera Guild, or come to a fundraiser and you will soon be part of the Toledo Opera family," she wrote.

Conductor James Meena called Sanford a beacon for the successful journey of the Toledo Opera, which weathered a recent financial crisis in large part to her efforts. Meena said she was as willing to do the "little things" as well -- perhaps a foreshadowing of the humble cake cutting.

'Tosca' Honorary Director Sanford Encourages Volunteerism

From the stage, retiring Toledo Opera trustee Ann Sanford joked to Friday's audience that it was a delight to have "Tosca" staged in her honor rather than her memory.

The full house laughed with appreciation, honoring Sanford's 20 years on the board. They were rewarded with a moving and gorgeous production of Puccini's "Tosca," staring Adam Diegel, Jill Gardner and Michael Chioldi. James Meena conducted the Toledo Symphony members, with Michael Capasso serving as stage director.

There are a handful of seats left for Sunday's performance. You don't want to miss it! Tickets are available online.

The Toledo Opera published the following note and a letter from Sanford in the program book:

Ann Sanford, Honorary Director

In grateful appreciation for two decades of loving this art form and company so much that you inspire others to love it, too. Your leadership, commitment, and enthusiasm have ensured that Toledo Opera survives and thrives today.

Dear Friends,

"Tosca" was the first opera I ever saw, and I never will forget sitting stunned in my cheap seat in the student section at the end when she ... but I can't tell  you that, you have to see it for yourself!

I am incredibly delighted that Toledo Opera has chosen to honor me with this production. I am the perfect example of "if I can do this, anybody can!" involvement with the Opera over the years. I began by singing in the chorus in the early '80s, which lasted until I was too pregnant to be swung about by my dance partner in "Pirates of Penzance." From there I volunteered to co-chair the Sapphire Ball in 1994, which raised over $100,000 for opera programs, and then became a board member for the next couple of decades.

So all you have to do is volunteer! Join the chorus, the Opera Guild, or come to a fundraiser and you will soon be part of the Toledo Opera family. We do like our parties!

We have survived some really tough times in recent years, thanks to everyone pitching in with hard work and from community-wide donations. It is a credit to Toledo that our scrappy little outfit has prospered when other, larger (but not better!) organizations have folded. The honest truth is that the productions here are as good as you will see anywhere ... and I mean anywhere! There is something magical about this theatre and the young up-and-coming artists who give their very best when they hit our beautiful stage. You may witness the next major star singing tonight, so save your program so you can look back and say, "Wait a minute, didn't we see her/him in Toledo Opera?"

Thanks to the "Sound Vision" campaign, our non-profit organization has kept main-stage opera in Toledo, brought terrific music to kids all over the area, collaborated with other arts organizations, and provided performance opportunities for many regional singers. You should all be proud to be part of the reason the opera is thriving. I know I am.

I hope to see you at many more operas in the years to come.

Ann Sanford,
Former Trustee

Sunday, October 5, 2014

'Tosca' Has Deep Roots in Toledo

Police brutality. Political torture. Passion, betrayal, jealousy. Murder. Suicide.

Yesterday's headlines?

Nope, next weekend’s opera: "Tosca."

Slated as Toledo Opera’s season opener, it will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Oct. 12 in the Valentine Theatre.

Read the rest of Sally Vallongo's article in today's edition of The Blade.

Vallongo relates the history of Puccini's opera in its original development and its impact on Toledo audiences, as well as interviews lead star Jill Gardner, who was a guest at last week's Toledo Opera Guild luncheon.

Toledo Opera artistic director James Meena praises the Valentine Theatre and its renovated orchestra pit.

"It's the perfect opera to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Valentine," he told The Blade.

Meena conducted "Tosca" for the Valentine's inaugural performance in 1999. The traditional sets also will be the same, the Seattle Opera's painted canvas backdrops from Italian designer Ercole Sormani.

"There are only a few sets by Sormani in the U.S.," the conductor said.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

'Vissi d'arte': Gardner Treats Opera Guild to 'Tosca' Aria at Luncheon

Soprano Jill Gardner, left, the female lead in the Toledo Opera's "Tosca,"
visits with Judith Conda at the opera guild luncheon at Inverness.

Soprano Jill Gardner may have been pleading to God as to why she has found herself -- or, rather, her character Tosca in Puccini's same-titled opera -- in such a tangled web of political and romantic intrigue, but the members and guests of the Toledo Opera Guild certainly would have offered prayers of divine gratitude for such a lovely performance.

Gardner, star of the Toledo Opera's upcoming "Tosca" production, sang the aria from Act II at the guild luncheon Wednesday at Inverness Club, with Kevin Bylsma accompanying on piano. Visit the guild's Facebook page to view a video.

"The Italians truly believe in destiny," Gardner said prior to the solo, describing Tosca's pleas to God that a lifelong service to humanity and love of art ("Vissi d'arte") should have protected her from the torture of her lover and an indecent proposal from a corrupt police chief.

"Nell'ora del dolore, perché, perché, Signore, perché me ne rimuneri così?" she sings, which means: "In this hour of grief, why, why, Lord, why do you reward me thus?"

The audience certainly will be rewarded by Gardner's amazing voice and those of a stellar cast in the Oct. 10 and 12 performances of "Tosca." Visit the Toledo Opera's website for more information and tickets. Read more about Gardner's biography on her site.

Gardner has been immersed in Puccini roles lately, but her portrayal of Tosca in Toledo will be a special one for her. Verismo soprano Diana Soviero, her mentor and current teacher, opened the Valentine Theatre in the same role years ago.

"It makes me cry even thinking about it," Gardner said.

The opera singer emphasized how important it is to study with a good teacher if one wants a successful and fulfilling career.

"What makes us as musicians is teachers," she said.

Gardner advises young students to be patient, especially with their voices as they will develop and mature over time. She encourages people who may be interested in becoming an opera performer to work on musicianship, to study the history of opera and its impact on Western culture, and to become fluent in other languages.

She also counsels prospective music students to secure their education with as minimal debt as possible, including attending community colleges for regular coursework before pursuing music credits at another school.

"You have to be so much more creative now to figure out how to do this," she said.

Gardner lives in North Carolina with husband Jake, who also is an opera singer. The bass-baritone and soprano have performed "Tosca" roles together before.

"We work out a lot of things in the second act," Gardner joked, swinging her fist around.

Cindy Niggemyer, left, sporting a diamond tiara, chats with
Joyce Stenberg at the luncheon.
The opera guild was delighted to be joined by Gardner at the luncheon. Hostess Barbara Baker, who serves as third vice president on the executive board, decorated the tables with scattered gems and bottles of wine that will be for sale at the upcoming Diamonds and Denim fall fundraising event.

Attendees dined on delectable tomato soup with tender chunks of carrots and onion, fluffy quiche studded with asparagus and spinach paired with green beans almondine, and a fall-is-finally-here slice of pumpkin pie graced with fresh whipped cream and a velvety roll of white chocolate.

Guild president Cindy Niggemyer -- thematically bedecked in glittering diamond jewelry and tiara with a denim skirt and blue gloves -- distributed new membership booklets and joked that her attire didn't seem that extraordinary to guild members.

"It's opera!" Bylsma quipped.