By Kelly Maxwell
Here at Opera Colorado, we’re buzzing with excitement over this Sunday’s Afternoon of American Song, featuring performances by our exceptionally talented Young Artists of 21st century American gems. Cherity Koepke, our Director of Education & Community Programs and Director of the Young Artist Program, has been curating this program for the past year, with every piece selected for a specific Young Artist to showcase their unique voice and personality. Koepke explains, “The Afternoon of American Song program strips away all the layers that we sometimes get as opera performers. Here, there will be no costumes, no set and scenery, no makeup. It is just them, their voice and a piano. We’re creating the most real and authentic thing that we can and we’re asking them to be brave enough to tell their own story.”
“I love all of the pieces,” says Koepke, “but one that stands out is a piece that Nicholas Kreider is singing, called ‘Dust and Ashes.’ It’s from this really wonderful new musical called Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, which is based on War and Peace.” The story is incredibly complicated but in essence, it’s about someone who is questioning if they’ve lived their life with purpose. Here, with Nick, we have this amazing young baritone, just at the beginning of his career, singing this song about someone looking back at their life. So, there is this really interesting dichotomy happening between the youthful way he sings it and the actual words he’s singing. It has become incredibly powerful. The entire afternoon’s program is filled with moments like that.”
Today we check in with Kreider and learn more about the baritone’s path to Opera Colorado’s Young Artist Program, his deep love of musical theater, and what makes An Afternoon of American Song such a special event. Read on—and don’t forget to get your tickets!
Tell us about your musical journey and how you got to Opera Colorado.
My musical influence started with my parents, who are both very musical. My mom was a choir teacher and my dad played guitar and sang a whole lot. As a kid, I was humming and singing all the time. Starting in middle school and continuing into high school, I did a lot of musicals. I really enjoyed choir, so I thought I was going to be a music teacher. I started taking lessons with Richard Fracker, and he actually became my teacher throughout my time at Michigan State University. He convinced me to add a double-major in performance and music education because he thought I had the talent and I was driven enough to be able to do that. The first opera I was in was The Pirates of Penzance. I was just in the chorus, but I had the best time. It was everything that I enjoyed about musicals. It was like the perfect bridge between singing musicals and singing opera. I had a really great time and I just wanted to do it more! After I realized that I could perform opera, I decided to drop my education major and just get my degree in performance. I continued on that path and got both my degrees from Michigan State University.
I had one season of auditions last year, and they kind of weren’t really looking too good, to be honest. I didn’t get anything. I got rejected from a lot of things, and I think it was because I’m pretty young. A lot of the people here are 27 or older, and I had just turned 25. I didn’t have any big names on my resume or anything else really. But then May came around, and they were still looking for a baritone at Opera Colorado, and I thought, “Well, I might as well do it.” So I went and auditioned. I didn’t expect to get anything, but I got a call a couple weeks later.
How has your experience with the Opera Colorado Young Artist Program been?
It’s been really great. I’ve had a good time branching out and learning new things. I’ve gotten to sing a lot of musical theater, and I feel it’s been really good to get back in touch with all the things I enjoyed about singing musical theater. I’m a bit better at singing at this point, so it’s a little easier and I can do a lot more of the things that I couldn’t have done before. This is a good, nurturing place to grow as a young singer.
You recently had the challenge of singing a role in Opera Colorado’s world premiere of Steal a Pencil for Me—and to make matters more complex, you portrayed a Nazi. What was that like?
It was intense. I was surprised by how much choreography we had. We practiced a lot to stay in sync. That performance was choreographed to be very coordinated and it was probably the most choreography I’ve done in an opera. It was an intense part to play on stage, so we had to joke around backstage during rehearsals just to keep everything light. But [originating a role] was a great experience. It’s so weird to say playing a Nazi was a great experience, but it totally was. I recently showed my resume to a manager, and he said, “It’s a bit jarring to see First Nazi as the first line on your resume!”
You’ve explored a lot of repertoire during the past six months with Opera Colorado. Do you have a favorite composer?
That’s a hard question. I really like singing things from bel canto composers like Rossini and Bellini. I feel like a lot of people won’t agree with me on that, but I enjoy singing a lot of the stuff. His operas are pretty light and funny and I really enjoy that.
How about your favorite language to sing in?
I’m going to say Italian. Cliché perhaps, but Italian is really easy to sing in.
Looking ahead to An Afternoon of American Song, are there any pieces you’re particularly excited about sharing with the audience?
I’m doing quite a bit of contemporary musical theater. I’d say my favorite piece is called “Beautiful Things” by Brian Lowdermilk. It’s him giving a speech at the wedding of his friend he met at band camp. I really like the tune.
What makes An Afternoon of American Song special?
It’s not going to be your typical concert! There will be a lot of different stuff being sung, and it’s going to be really exciting.
As a young performer yourself, what would you say to someone else who dreams about being an opera singer?
It’s hard, but sharing an emotion or a connection with an audience is probably one of the best feelings in the world. When you’re doing this kind of stuff, you end up make a lot of connections with people who are also interested in the same thing and are also just as driven as you. That’s super awesome.